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Auschwitz Concentration Camp

Concentration camp Auschwitz (GermanKonzentrationslager Auschwitz [?a??v?ts]  (Auschwitz Birkenau German Nazi Concentration and Extermination Camp (Unesco)) was a network of Nazi concentration and extermination camps built and operated by the Third Reich in Polish areas annexed by Nazi Germany during World War II. It was the largest of the German concentration camps, consisting of Auschwitz I (the Stammlager or base camp); Auschwitz II–Birkenau (the Vernichtungslager or extermination camp); Auschwitz III–Monowitz, also known as Buna–Monowitz (a labor camp); and 45 satellite camps.

Auschwitz had for a long time been a German name for O?wi?cim, the town by and around which the camps were located; the name "Auschwitz" was made the official name again by the Germans after they invaded Poland in September 1939. Birkenau, the German translation ofBrzezinka (= "birch tree"), referred originally to a small Polish village that was destroyed by the Germans to make way for the camp.

Auschwitz II–Birkenau was designated by the Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler, Germany's Minister of the Interior, as the place of the "final solution of the Jewish question in Europe". From early 1942 until late 1944, transport trains delivered Jews to the camp's gas chambers from all over Nazi-occupied Europe. The camp's first commandant, Rudolf Höss, testified after the war at the Nuremberg Trials that up to three million people had died there (2.5 million gassed, and 500,000 from disease and starvation), a figure since revised to 1.1 million, around 90 percent of them Jews. Others deported to Auschwitz included 150,000 Poles, 23,000 Roma and Sinti, 15,000 Soviet prisoners of war, some 400 Jehovah's Witnesses and tens of thousands of people of diverse nationalities. Those not killed in the gas chambers died of starvation, forced labor, infectious disease, individual executions, and medical experiments.

On January 27, 1945, Auschwitz was liberated by Soviet troops, a day commemorated around the world as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. In 1947, Poland founded a museum on the site of Auschwitz I and II, which by 2010 had seen 29 million visitors—1,300,000 annually—pass through the iron gates crowned with the infamous motto, Arbeit macht frei ("work makes Free")

Main camps

Surveillance photo showing location of three main camps

Map showing the originating locations in Europe for deportations to Auschwitz concentration camp

Located approximately 50 km west of Kraków, the Auschwitz complex of camps encompassed a large industrial area rich in natural resources. There were 48 camps in all. The three main camps were Auschwitz I, Auschwitz II-Birkenau, and a work camp called Auschwitz III-Monowitz, or the Buna. Auschwitz I served as the administrative center, and was the site of the deaths of roughly 70,000 people, mostly ethnic Poles and Soviet prisoners of war. Auschwitz II was an extermination camp or Vernichtungslager, the site of the deaths of at least 960,000 Jews, 75,000 Poles, and some 19,000 Roma. Auschwitz III-Monowitz served as a labor camp for the Buna-Werke factory of the IG Farbenconcern. The SS-Totenkopfverbände (SS-TV) was the SS organization responsible for administering the Nazi concentration camps for the Third Reich. The SS-TV was an independent unit within the SS with its own ranks and command structure.Obersturmbannführer Rudolf Höss was overall commandant of the Auschwitz complex from May 1940 – November 1943;Obersturmbannführer Arthur Liebehenschel from November 1943 – May 1944; and Sturmbannführer Richard Baer from May 1944 – January 1945.

Yisrael Gutman writes that it was in the concentration camps that Hitler's concept of absolute power came to fruition. Primo Levi, who described his year in Auschwitz in If This Is a Man, wrote:

[N]ever has there existed a state that was really "totalitarian." ... Never has some form of reaction, a corrective of the total tyranny, been lacking, not even in the Third Reich or Stalin's Soviet Union: in both cases, public opinion, the magistrature, the foreign press, the churches, the feeling for justice and humanity that ten or twenty years of tyranny were not enough to eradicate, have to a greater or lesser extent acted as a brake. Only in the Lager [camp] was the restraint from below non-existent, and the power of these small satraps absolute.

Auschwitz I Auschwitz I entrance Map of Auschwitz I, shows Polish Tobacco Monopoly building; 1940

Auschwitz I was the original camp, serving as the administrative center for the whole complex. The site for the camp (16 one-story buildings) had earlier served as Polish army artillery barracks. It was first suggested as a site for a concentration camp for Polish prisoners by SS-Oberfuhrer Arpad Wigand, an aide to Higher SS and Police Leader for SilesiaErich von dem Bach-Zelewski. Bach-Zelewski had been searching for a site to house prisoners in the Silesia region as the local prisons were filled to capacity. Richard Glucks, head of the Concentration Camps Inspectorate, sent former Sachsenhausen concentration campcommandant, Walter Eisfeld, to inspect the site. Glucks informed SS- Reichsfuhrer Heinrich Himmler that a camp would be built on the site on February 21, 1940. Rudolf Höss would oversee the development of the camp and serve as the first commandant, SS-Obersturmführer Josef Kramer was appointed Höss's deputy.

Local residents were evicted, including 1,200 people who lived in shacks around the barracks, creating an empty area of 40 km2, which the Germans called the "interest area of the camp". 300 Jewish residents ofO?wi?cim were brought in to lay foundations. From 1940 to 1941 17,000 Polish and Jewish residents of the western districts of O?wi?cim town, from places adjacent to Auschwitz Concentration Camp, were expelled. Germans ordered also expulsions from the villages of BroszkowiceBabiceBrzezinkaRajsko,P?awyHarm??eBór, and Budy. The expulsion of Polish civilians was a step towards establishing the Camp Interest Zone, which was set up to isolate the camp from the outside world and to carry out business activity to meet the needs of the SS. German and Volksdeutsche settlers moved into some buildings whose Jewish population had been deported to the ghetto.

Main article: First mass transport to Auschwitz concentration camp

The first prisoners (30 German criminal prisoners from the Sachsenhausen camp) arrived in May 1940, intended to act as functionaries within the prison system. The first transport of 728 Polish prisoners which included 20 Jews arrived on June 14, 1940 from the prison in Tarnów, Poland. They were interned in the former building of the Polish Tobacco Monopoly adjacent to the site, until the camp was ready. The inmate population grew quickly, as the camp absorbed Poland's intelligentsia and dissidents, including the Polish underground resistance. By March 1941, 10,900 were imprisoned there, most of them Poles.

The SS selected some prisoners, often German criminals, as specially privileged supervisors of the other inmates (so-called kapos). Although involved in numerous atrocities, only two Kapos were ever prosecuted for their individual behavior; many were deemed to have had little choice but to act as they did. The various classes of prisoners were distinguishable by special marks on their clothes; Jews and Soviet prisoners of war were generally treated the worst. All inmates had to work in the associated arms factories, except on Sundays, which were reserved for cleaning and showering. The harsh work requirements, combined with poor nutrition and hygiene, led to high death rates among the prisoners.

Block 11 of Auschwitz was the "prison within the prison", where violators of the numerous rules were punished. Some prisoners were made to spend the nights in "standing cells". These cells were about 1.5 m2 (16 sq ft), and four men would be placed in them; they could do nothing but stand, and were forced during the day to work with the other prisoners. In the basement were located the "starvation cells"; prisoners incarcerated here were given neither food nor water until they were dead.

Block 11

In the basement were the "dark cells"; these cells had only a very tiny window, and a solid door. Prisoners placed in these cells would gradually suffocate as they used up all of the oxygen in the cell; sometimes the SS would light a candle in the cell to use up the oxygen more quickly. Many were subjected to hanging with their hands behind their backs for hours, even days, thus dislocating their shoulder joints.

On September 3, 1941, deputy camp commandant SS-Hauptsturmführer Fritzsch experimented on 600 Russian POWs and 250 Polish inmates by gathering them in the basement of Block 11 and gassing them with Zyklon B, a highly lethal cyanide-based pesticide. This paved the way for the use of Zyklon B as an instrument for extermination at Auschwitz, and a gas chamber and crematorium were constructed by converting a bunker. This gas chamber operated from 1941 to 1942, during which time some 60,000 people were killed therein; it was then converted into an air-raid shelter for the use of the SS. This gas chamber still exists, together with the associated crematorium, which was reconstructed after the war using the original components, which remained on-site.

Auschwitz II-Birkenau Auschwitz II-Birkenau

Construction on Auschwitz II-Birkenau, the extermination camp, began in October 1941 to ease congestion at the main camp. It was larger than Auschwitz I, and more people passed through its gates than through Auschwitz I. It was designed to hold several categories of prisoners, and to function as an extermination camp in the context of Heinrich Himmler's preparations for the Final Solution of the Jewish Question, the extermination of the Jews. The first gas chamber at Birkenau was "The Little Red House," a brick cottage converted into a gassing facility by tearing out the inside and bricking up the walls. It was operational by March 1942. A second brick cottage, "The Little White House," was similarly converted some weeks later.

The Nazis had committed themselves to the final solution no later than January 1942, the date of the Wannsee Conference. In his Nuremberg testimony on April 15, 1946, Rudolf Höss, the commandant of Auschwitz, testified that Heinrich Himmler personally ordered him to prepare Auschwitz for that purpose:

In the summer of 1941 I was summoned to Berlin to Reichsführer-SS Himmler to receive personal orders. He told me something to the effect—I do not remember the exact words—that the Fuehrer had given the order for a final solution of the Jewish question. We, the SS, must carry out that order. If it is not carried out now then the Jews will later on destroy the German people. He had chosen Auschwitz on account of its easy access by rail and also because the extensive site offered space for measures ensuring isolation.

Picture of Birkenau taken by an American surveillance plane, August 25, 1944

British historian Laurence Rees writes, that Höss may have misremembered the year Himmler said this. Himmler did indeed visit Höss in the summer of 1941, but there is no evidence that the final solution had been planned at this stage. Rees writes that the meeting predates the killings of Jewish men by the Einsatzgruppen in the East and the expansion of the killings in July 1941. It also predates the Wannsee Conference. Rees speculates that the conversation with Himmler was most likely in the summer of 1942. The first gassings, using an industrial gas derived fromprussic acid and known by the brand name Zyklon-B, were carried out at Auschwitz in September 1941.

In early 1943, the Nazis decided to increase greatly the gassing capacity of Birkenau. Crematorium II, originally designed as a mortuary, with morgues in the basement and ground-level furnaces, was converted into a killing factory by placing a gas-tight door on the morgues and adding vents for Zyklon B and ventilation equipment to remove the gas. It went into operation in March. Crematorium III was built using the same design. Crematoria IV and V, designed from the start as gassing centers, were also constructed that spring. By June 1943 all four crematoria were operational. Most of the victims were killed during the period afterwards.

The camp was staffed partly by prisoners, some of whom were selected to be kapos (orderlies, most of whom were convicts) andsonderkommandos (workers at the crematoria). The kapos were responsible for keeping order in the barrack huts; the sonderkommandosprepared new arrivals for gassing (ordering them to remove their clothing and surrender their personal possessions) and transferred corpses from the gas chambers to the furnaces, having first pulled out any gold that the victims might have had in their teeth. Members of these groups were killed periodically. The kapos and sonderkommandos were supervised by members of the SS; altogether 6,000 SS members worked at Auschwitz.

Command of the women's camp, which was separated from the men's area by the incoming railway line, was held in turn by Johanna LangefeldMaria Mandel, and Elisabeth Volkenrath.


Auschwitz Concentration Camp Continued

The Gypsy camp Zigeunermischlinge ("Gypsy half-breeds") used in an anthropological study by German psychologist Eva Justin. They were sent to the "Gypsy camp" and murdered when the camp was liquidated

On December 1942, Heinrich Himmler issued an order to send all Sinti and Roma (gypsies) to concentration camps with Auschwitz being one of the main camps; they had been previously sent to internment camps and ghettos such as the Lodz ghetto, to which 5,000 Ungrika(Hungarian) Roma from Burgenland, Austria were sent. A separate camp for the Roma was set up at Auschwitz II-Birkenau known as the Zigeunerfamilienlager ("Gypsy Family Camp"). The first transport of German Gypsies arrived on February 26, 1943,and housed in Section B-IIe of Asuchwitz II. The "Gypsy Family Camp", which was still under construction at the time was to become a separate subcamp within Auschwitz II. The camp would eventually contain 32 residential and 6 sanitation barracks and house a total of 20,967 Romani men, women, and children. This does not include a transport of approximately 1,700 Polish Sinti and Roma men, women, and children mentioned which arrived from Bia?ystok on March 23, 1943. Some of the people on the transport had typhus; to avoid an outbreak in the camp they were all murdered in the gas chamber.

Amongst the victims who were killed after being shipped to the "Gypsy camp" was 9-year-old Dutch girl Anna Maria Steinbach (Settela) who appears in an iconic haunting still image from a film peering out from a transport train that would take her from the Westerbork detention campin the Netherlands to her eventual death in the gas chambers at Auschwitz. Steinbach was believed to be Jewish until research uncovered her Sinti heritage in 1994.

German psychologist Eva Justin did a pseudo-scientific study for her doctoral dissertation, titled "Lebensschicksale artfremd erzogener Zigeunerkinder und ihrer Nachkommen" (English: the life history of alien-raised Gypsy children and their descendants). The basis of the study was to ascertain the prevalence of "Gypsy traits" in "Zigeunermischlinge", (Gypsy half-breed) half-Romani children, many half-German, were taken from their parents and raised in orphanages and foster homes without any contact with Romani culture.

Of the 41 children in the study at St. Josefspflege orphanage in MulfingenGermany, 39 of them (20 boys and 19 girls) were shipped to Auschwitz on May 6, 1944. Of the 39 children, two survived Auschwitz; all the others were killed, most during the final liquidation of the camp on the night of August 2–3, 1944.

During the final liquidation of the Gypsy camp, the remaining 2,897 Romani in the camp were sent to the gas chambers. The murder of the Romani people by the Nazis during World War II is known in the Romani language as the "The Porajmos" ("The Devouring").

Auschwitz III Main article: Monowitz concentration camp Buna-WerkeMonowitz and subcamps

Monowitz (also called Monowitz-Buna or Auschwitz III), initially established as a subcamp of Auschwitz concentration camp, Monowitz became one of the three main camps in the Auschwitz concentration camp system, with an additional 45 subcamps in the surrounding area. It was named after the town of Monowice (German, Monowitz) upon which it was built which was located in the annexed portion of Poland. The camp was established in October 1942 by the SS at the behest of I.G. Farben executives to provide slave labor for their Buna-Werke (Buna Works) industrial complex. The name Buna was derived from the butadiene-based synthetic rubber and the chemical symbol for sodium Na utilized in the process of synthetic rubber production developed in Germany. Various other German industrial enterprises built factories with their own subcamps, such as Siemens-Schuckert's Bobrek subcamp, close to Monowitz in order to profit from the use of slave labor. The German armaments manufacturer Krupp headed by SS member Alfried Kruppalso built their own manufacturing facilities near Monowitz.

Monowitz was built as an arbeitslager (workcamp), it also contained a "ArbeitsausbildungLager" (Labor Education Camp)" for non-Jewish prisoners perceived not up to par with German work standards. It held approximately 12,000 prisoners, the great majority of whom were Jewish, but also carried non-Jewish criminals and political prisoners. Monowitz prisoners were leased out by the SS to IG Farben to labor at the Buna-Werke, a collection of chemical factories including those used to manufacture Buna(synthetic rubber) and synthetic oil. The SS charged IG Farben three Reichsmarks (RM) per hour for unskilled workers, RM4 per hour for skilled workers and RM1½ for children. Elie Weisel author of the Pulitzer Prize winning book Night was a teenage inmate at Monowitz along with his father. The life expectancy of Jewish workers at Buna Werke was three to four months, for those working in the outlying mines, only one month. Those deemed unfit for work were gassed at Birkenau or sent "to Birkenau" (nach Birkenau), according to a euphemism used in I.G. Farben record books.

Fritz Löhner-Beda (prisoner number 68561) was a popular song lyricist who was murdered in Monowitz-Buna at the behest of an I.G. Farben executive, as his friend Raymond van den Straaten testified at the Nuremberg trial of 24 I.G. Farben executives:

One day, two Buna inmates, Dr. Raymond van den Straaten and Dr. Fritz Löhner-Beda, were going about their work when a party of visiting I.G. Farben dignitaries passed by. One of the directors pointed to Dr. Löhner-Beda and said to his SS companion, ‘This Jewish swine could work a little faster.’ Another director then chanced the remark, ‘If they can’t work, let them perish in the gas chamber.’ After the inspection was over, Dr. Löhner-Beda was pulled out of the work party and was beaten and kicked until, a dying man, he was left in the arms of his inmate friend, to end his life in I.G. Auschwitz.

Subcamps Further information: List of subcamps of Auschwitz Prisoners building airplane parts atSiemens-Schuckert factory at Bobrek sub-camp

There were 45 smaller satellite camps, some of them tens of kilometers from the main camps, with prisoner populations ranging from several dozen to several thousand. The largest were built atTrzebiniaBlechhammer and Althammer. Women's subcamps were constructed at Budy, P?awy,ZabrzeGleiwitz I, II, III, Rajsko, and Lichtenwerden (now Sv?tlá). The satellite camps were namedAussenlager (external camp), Nebenlager (extension or subcamp), and Arbeitslager (labor camp).

Danuta Czech of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum writes that most of the satellite camps were pressed into service on behalf of German industry. Inmates of 28 of them worked for the German armaments industry. Nine camps were set up near foundries and other metal works, six near coal mines, six supplied prisoners to work in chemical plants, and three to light industry. One was built next to a plant making construction materials and another near a food processing plant. Apart from the weapons and construction industries, prisoners were also made to work in forestry and farming.

Command and control Main article: SS command of Auschwitz concentration camp SS-Standartenführer Dr. Enno Lolling, the director of the Office for Sanitation and Hygiene in the Inspectorate of Concentration Camps looks over a document with SS-Sturmbannführer Richard Baer, commandant of Auschwitz, and his adjutant SS-Obersturmführer Karl-Friedrich Höcker (left to right)

Due to its large size and key role in the Nazi genocide program, the Auschwitz Concentration Camp encompassed personnel from several different branches of the SS, some of which held overlapping and shared areas of responsibility. In all, there were over 7000 members of the SS assigned to Auschwitz during the entirety of the camp's existence.

The overall command authority for the entire camp was the SS-Economics Main Office, known as the SS-Wirtschafts-Verwaltungshauptamt or SS-WVHA. Within the WVHA, it was Department D (the Concentration Camps Inspectorate) which commanded directly the activities at Auschwitz.

The command personnel of Auschwitz, who lived on site and ran the camp complex, were all members of the SS-Totenkopfverbande, or the SS-TV. Due to a 1941 personnel directive from the SS Personalhauptamt, members of the SS-TV were also considered full members of the Waffen-SS. Such personnel were further authorized to display the Death's Head Collar Patch, indicating full membership in both the SS-TV and Waffen-SS.

The Gestapo also maintained a large office at Auschwitz, staffed by uniformed Gestapo officers and personnel. Auschwitz also maintained a medical corps, led byEduard Wirths, whose doctors and medical personnel were from various backgrounds in the SS. The infamous Joseph Mengele, for example, was a combat field doctor in the Waffen-SS before transferring to Auschwitz after being wounded in combat.

Internal camp order was under the authority of another SS group, answering directly to the Camp Commander through officers known by the title Lagerführer. Each of the three main camps at Auschwitz was assigned a Lagerführer to which answered several SS-non-commissioned officers known as Rapportführers. The Rapportführer commanded several Blockführer who oversaw order within individual prisoner barracks. Assisting the SS with this task was a large collection of Kapos, who were trustee prisoners. SS personnel assigned to the gas chambers were technically under the same chain of command as other internal camp SS personnel, but in practice were segregated and worked and lived locally on site at the crematorium. In all, there were usually four SS personnel per gas chamber, led by a non-commissioned officer, who oversaw around one hundred Jewish prisoners (known as the Sonderkommando) forced to assist in the extermination process. The actual delivery of the gas to the victims was always handled by the SS, this was accomplished by a special SS unit known as the "Hygiene Division" which would drive Zyklon B to the crematorium in an ambulance and then empty the canister into the gas chamber. The Hygiene Division was under the control of the Auschwitz Medical Corps, with the Zyklon B ordered and delivered through the camp supply system.

External camp security was under the authority of an SS unit known as the "Guard Battalion", or Wachbattalion. These guards manned watchtowers and patrolled the perimeter fences of the camp. During an emergency, such as a prisoner uprising, the Guard Battalion could be deployed within the camp as the need arose; a scene in the film The Grey Zone depicts the Guard Battalion entering and machine gunning a crematorium after the Jewish Sonderkommando rose up against the normal contingent of SS guards.

Various administrative and supply SS personnel were also assigned to Auschwitz, usually "out of the way" of the more horrific activities of the camp, based out of command administrative offices in the main camp of Auschwitz I. Oskar Gröning is one such well known Auschwitz clerk, who has appeared on several documentaries speaking about life in Auschwitz for the SS, and how living in the camp was in fact an enjoyable experience. Auschwitz also maintained a motor pool as well as an arsenal from which all the SS personnel would draw weapons and ammunition, although several of the SS were known to purchase their own handguns and pistols.

In addition to the command and control proper of Auschwitz Concentration Camp, the camp further frequently received orders and directives from other organs of the SS and the Nazi state. The camp itself was located in the Nazi Region of Upper Silesia and therefore under the geographical control of the corresponding Gauleiter (prior to 1942, the camp had been under geographical jurisdiction of the General Government). Furthermore, the camp fell under the subordinate command of the SS and Police Leader of the region and was often issued orders from the SS-Reichssicherheitshauptamt or RSHA, which was a key SS organization involved in the genocide program. Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler was known to issue orders to the camp commander, bypassing all other chains of command, in response to his own directives. Himmler would also occasionally receive broad instructions from Adolf Hitler or Hermann Göring, which he would interprete as he saw fit and transmit to the Auschwitz Camp Commander.

Selection process and genocide Hungarian Jews on the Judenrampe (Jewish ramp) after disembarking from the transport trains, to be sent rechts! – to the right – meant labor; links! – to the left – the gas chambers. Photo from theAuschwitz Album (May 1944) Hungarian Jewish mothers, children, elderly and infirm sent to the left after 'selection" They will be murdered in the gas chamber soon after (May 1944)

By July 1942, the SS were conducting the infamous "selections," in which incoming Jews were divided into those deemed able to work, who were sent to the right and admitted into the camp, and those who were sent to the left and immediately gassed. Prisoners were transported from all over German-occupied Europe by rail, arriving in daily convoys. The SS forced an orchestra to play as new inmates walked towards their "selection" and possible extermination; the musicians had the highest suicide rate of anyone in the camps, besidesSonderkommandos. The group selected to die, about three-quarters of the total, included almost all children, women with children, all the elderly, and all those who appeared on brief and superficial inspection by an SS doctor not to be completely fit. Auschwitz II-Birkenau claimed more victims than any other German extermination camp, despite coming into use after all the others.

Deutsche Reichsbahn"Güterwagen" (goods wagon), one of the types used for deportations

SS officers told the victims they were to take a shower and undergo delousing. The victims would undress in an outer chamber and walk into the gas chamber, which was disguised as a shower facility, complete with dummy shower heads. After the doors were shut, SS men would dump in the cyanide pellets via holes in the roof or windows on the side. In Auschwitz II-Birkenau, more than 20,000 people could be gassed and cremated each day. The Nazis used a cyanide gas produced from Zyklon B pellets, manufactured by two companies who had acquired licensing rights to the patent held by IG Farben. Despite the thick concrete walls of the gas chambers, screaming and moaning from within could be heard outside for 15 to 20 minutes. In one failed attempt to muffle the noise, two motorcycle engines were revved up to full throttle nearby, but the sound of yelling could be heard over the engines.

Sonderkommandos removed gold teeth from the corpses of gas chamber victims; the gold was melted down and collected by the SS. The belongings of the arrivals were seized by the SS and sorted in an area of the camp called "Canada," so-called because Canada was seen as a land of plenty. Many of the SS at the camp enriched themselves by pilfering the confiscated property.

The gas chambers worked to their fullest capacity from April–July 1944, during the massacre of Hungary's Jews. Hungary was an ally of Germany during the war, but it had resisted turning over its Jews to the Germans until Germany invaded in March 1944. From April until July 9, 1944, 475,000 Hungarian Jews, half of the pre-war population, were deported to Auschwitz, at a rate of 12,000 a day for a considerable part of that period. The incoming volume was so great that the SS resorted to burning corpses in open-air pits as well as in the crematoria.

Speech given to condemned Jews by Obersturmführer Franz Hössler Franz Hoessler

Speech (paraphrased) given by Obersturmführer Franz Hössler to a group of Greek Jews in the undressing room just prior to being killed in the gas chamber:

"On behalf of the camp administration I bid you welcome. This is not a holiday resort but a labor camp. Just as our soldiers risk their lives at the front to gain victory for the Third Reich, you will have to work here for the welfare of a new Europe. How you tackle this task is entirely up to you. The chance is there for every one of you. We shall look after your health, and we shall also offer you well-paid work. After the war we shall assess everyone according to his merits and treat him accordingly."

"Now, would you please all get undressed. Hang your clothes on the hooks we have provided and please remember your number [of the hook]. When you've had your bath there will be a bowl of soup and coffee or tea for all. Oh yes, before I forget, after your bath, please have ready your certificates, diplomas, school reports and any other documents so that we can employ everybody according to his or her training and ability."

"Would diabetics who are not allowed sugar report to staff on duty after their baths".

Auschwitz Concentration Camp Continued

Life in the camps

The prisoners' day began at 4:30 am with "reveille" or roll call, with 30 minutes allowed for morning ablutions. After roll call, the Kommando, or work details, would walk to their place of work, five abreast, wearing striped camp fatigues, no underwear, and wooden shoes without socks, most of the time ill-fitting, which caused great pain.

A prisoner's orchestra (such as the Women's Orchestra of Auschwitz) was forced to play grotesquely cheerful music as the workers marched through the gates in step. Kapos—prisoners who had been promoted to foremen—were responsible for the prisoners' behavior while they worked, as was an SS escort. The working day lasted 12 hours during the summer, and a little less in the winter. No rest periods were allowed. One prisoner would be assigned to the latrines to measure the time the workers took to empty their bladders and bowels.

After work, there was a mandatory evening roll call. If a prisoner was missing, the others had to remain standing in place until he was either found or the reason for his absence discovered, even if it took hours, regardless of the weather conditions.

After roll call, there were individual and collective punishments, depending on what had happened during the day, and after these, the prisoners were allowed to retire to their blocks for the night to receive their bread rations and water. Curfew was two or three hours later, the prisoners sleeping in long rows of wooden bunks, lying in and on their clothes and shoes to prevent them from being stolen.

Block 10, the medical experimentation block

German doctors performed a wide variety of experiments on prisoners at Auschwitz. SS doctors tested the efficacy of X-rays as a sterilization device by administering large doses to female prisoners. Prof. Dr. Carl Clauberg injected chemicals into women's uteruses in an effort to glue them shut. Bayer, then a subsidiary of IG Farben, bought prisoners to use as guinea pigs for testing new drugs.

The most infamous doctor at Auschwitz was Josef Mengele, known as the "Angel of Death". Particularly interested in research on identical twins, Mengele performed cruel experiments on them, such as inducing diseases in one twin and killing the other when the first died to perform comparative autopsies. He also took a special interest in dwarfs, and he deliberately induced gangrene in twins, dwarfs and other prisoners to "study" the effects.

Mengele, at the behest of fellow Nazi physician Kurt Heissmeyer, was responsible for picking the twenty Jewish children to be used in Heissmeyers' pseudoscientific medical experiments at the Neuengamme concentration camp. These children, at the conclusion of the experiments, were infamously hanged from wall hooks in the basement of the Bullenhuser Damm school.

The cadaver of Berlin dairy merchant Menachem Taffel. Deported to Auschwitz in March 1943 along with his wife and child who were gassed upon arrival. He was chosen to be an anatomical specimen, shipped to Natzweiler-Struthof and murdered in the gas chamber in August 1943

The Jewish skeleton collection was obtained from among a pool of 115 Jewish inmates at Auschwitz, chosen for their perceived stereotypical racial characteristics. Rudolf Brandt andWolfram Sievers, general manager of the Ahnenerbe, were responsible for collecting the skeletons for the collection of the Anatomy Institute at the Reich University of Strasbourg in the Alsace region of Occupied France.

The Jewish skeleton collection was an attempt by the Nazis to create ananthropological display to showcase the alleged racial inferiority of the "Jewish race" and to emphasize the Jews status as untermenschen as opposed to the Germanrace which the Nazis considered to be Aryan ubermenschen. The collection was to be housed at the Anatomy Institute at the Reich University of Strasbourg in theAlsace region of Occupied France, where the initial preparation of the corpses was performed. The collection was sanctioned by Reichsführer of the SS Heinrich Himmler, and under the direction of August Hirt with Rudolf Brandt and Wolfram Sievers, general manager of the Ahnenerbe, being responsible for procuring and preparing the corpses.

Originally the "specimens" to be used in the collection were to be Jewish commisars in the Red Army captured on the Eastern front by the Wermacht. The individuals ultimately chosen for the collection were obtained from among a pool of 115 Jewish inmates at Auschwitz concentration camp in Occupied Poland.

They were chosen for their perceived stereotypical racial characteristics. The initial selections and preparations were carried out by SS-Hauptsturmführer Dr. Bruno Beger and Dr. Hans Fleischhacker, who arrived in Auschwitz in the first half of 1943 and finished the preliminary work by June 15, 1943.

Due to a typhus epidemic at Auschwitz, the candidates chosen for the skeleton collection were quarantined in order to prevent them from becoming ill and ruining their value as anatomical specimens; from a letter written by Sievers in June 1943: "Altogether 115 persons were worked on, 79 were Jews, 30 were Jewesses, 2 were Poles, and 4 were Asiatics. At the present time these prisoners are segregated by sex and are under quarantine in the two hospital buildings of Auschwitz."

Ultimately 87 of the inmates were shipped to Natzweiler-Struthof, 46 of these individuals were originally from Thessaloniki, Greece. The deaths 86 of these inmates was, in the words of Hirt, "induced" at a jury rigged gassing facility at Natzweiler-Struthof and their corpses; 57 men and 29 women, were sent to Strasbourg, one male victim was shot as he fought to keep from being gassed.

 Josef Kramer, acting commandant of Natzweiler-Struthof (who would become the commandant at Auschwitz and the last commandant of Bergen Belsen) personally carried out the gassing of 80 of these 86 victims. In 1944 with the approach of the allies, there was concern over the possibility of the corpses being discovered, at this point they had still not been defleshed. The first part of the process for this "collection" was to make anatomical casts of the bodies prior to reducing them to skeletons. In September, 1944 Sievers telegrammed Brandt: "The collection can be defleshed and rendered unrecognizable. This, however, would mean that the whole work had been done for nothing-at least in part-and that this singular collection would be lost to science, since it would be impossible to make plaster casts afterwards."

In February 1942, Sievers submitted to Himmler, through Rudolf Brandt, a report from which the following is an extract read at the Nuremberg Doctors Trial by General Telford Taylor, Chief Counsel for the prosecution at Nuremberg: Wolfram Sievers

"We have a nearly complete collection of skulls of all races and peoples at our disposal. Only very few specimens of skulls of the Jewish race, however, are available with the result that it is impossible to arrive at precise conclusions from examining them. The war in the East now presents us with the opportunity to overcome this deficiency. By procuring the skulls of the Jewish-Bolshevik Commissars, who represent the prototype of the repulsive, but characteristic subhuman, we have the chance now to obtain a palpable, scientific document.

"The best, practical method for obtaining and collecting this skull material could be handled by directing the Wehrmacht to turn over alive all captured Jewish-Bolshevik Commissars to the Field Police. They in turn are to be given special directives to inform a certain office at regular intervals of the number and place of detention of these captured Jews and to give them special close attention and care until a special delegate arrives. This special delegate, who will be in charge of securing the 'material' has the job of taking a series of previously established photographs, anthropological measurements, and in addition has to determine, as far as possible, the background, date of birth, and other personal data of the prisoner. Following the subsequently induced death of the Jew, whose head should not be damaged, the delegate will separate the head from the body and will forward it to its proper point of destination in a hermetically sealed tin can especially produced for this purpose and filled with a conserving fluid.

"Having arrived at the laboratory, the comparison tests and anatomical research on the skull, as well as determination of the race membership of pathological features of the skull form, the form and size of the brain, etc., can proceed. The basis of these studies will be the photos, measurements, and other data supplied on the head, and finally the tests of the skull itself."

Victim Elisabeth Klein (b. 1901 Vienna,Austria)

Brandt and Sievers would be indicted, tried and convicted in the Doctors' Trial in Nuremberg and both were hanged in Landsberg Prison on June 2, 1948. Hirt committed suicide in SchonenbachAustria, on June 2, 1945 with a gunshot to the head. Josef Kramer was convicted of war crimes and hanged in Hamelin prison by noted British executioner Albert Pierrepoint on December 13, 1945.

In 1974 Bruno Berger was convicted by a West German court as an accessory to 86 murders for his role in procuring the victims of the Jewish skeleton collection. He was sentenced to 3 years imprisonment, the minimum sentence, but did not serve any time in prison. According to his family, Beger died in Königstein im Taunus on October 12, 2009.

For many years only a single victim, Menachem Taffel (prisoner no. 107969) a Polish born Jew who had been living in Berlin- was positively identified, through the efforts of Serge and Beate Klarsfeld. In 2003 Dr. Hans-Joachim Lang, a German professor at the University of Tübingen succeeded in identifying all the victims, by comparing a list of inmate numbers of the 86 corpses at Strasbourg (surreptitiously recorded by Hirts' French assistant Henri Herypierre) with a list of numbers of inmates vaccinated at Auschwitz.

The names and biographical information of the murder victims were published in the book Die Namen der Nummern (The Names of the Numbers). In 1951 the remains of the 86 victims were reinterred in one location in the Cronenbourg-Strasbourg Jewish Cemetery. On Dec. 11, 2005, memorial stones engraved with the names of the 86 victims were placed at the cemetery. One is at the site of the mass grave, the other along the wall of the cemetery. Another plaque honoring the victims was placed outside the Anatomy Institute at Strasbourg's University Hospital.

Due to a typhus epidemic, the candidates chosen for the skeleton collection were quarantined in order to prevent them from becoming ill and ruining their value as anatomical specimens; from a letter written by Sievers in June 1943: "Altogether 115 persons were worked on, 79 were Jews, 30 were Jewesses, 2 were Poles, and 4 were Asiatics. At the present time these prisoners are segregated by sex and are under quarantine in the two hospital buildings of Auschwitz."

The collection was sanctioned by Heinrich Himmler and under the direction of August Hirt.

Ultimately 87 of the inmates were shipped to Natzweiler-Struthof. The deaths of 86 of these inmates was, in the words of Hirt, "induced" at a jury rigged gassing facility over the course of a few days in August 1943. One of the victims was shot by the SS when he fought entering the gas chamber. The corpses; 57 men and 29 women were sent to Strasbourg.Josef Kramer who would become the last commandant of Bergen Belsen personally carried out the gassing of 80 of the victims.

In 1944 with the approach of the allies, there was concern over the possibility of the corpses being discovered, at this point they had still not been defleshed. The first part of the process for this "collection" was to make anatomical casts of the bodies prior to reducing them to skeletons. In September, 1944 Sievers telegrammed Brandt: "The collection can be defleshed and rendered unrecognizable. This, however, would mean that the whole work had been done for nothing – at least in part – and that this singular collection would be lost to science, since it would be impossible to make plaster casts afterwards."

Brandt and Sievers would be indicted, tried and convicted in the Doctor's Trial in Nuremberg. Hirt committed suicide in Schonenbach, Austria, on June 2, 1945 with a gunshot to the head. The names and biographical information of the murder victims were published in the bookDie Namen der Nummern (The Names of the Numbers) by German historian Dr. Hans-Joachim Lang.

Escapes, resistance, and the Allies' knowledge of the camps Further information: Auschwitz bombing debateWitold Pilecki, and Rudolf Vrba Witold Pilecki, the only known person to volunteer to be imprisoned at Auschwitz concentration camp (1941)

Information regarding Auschwitz was available to the Allies during the years 1940–43 by the accurate and frequent reports of Polish Army Captain Witold Pilecki. Pilecki was the only known person to volunteer to be imprisoned at Auschwitz concentration camp, spending 945 days there, not only actively gathering evidence of genocide and supplying it to the British in London by Polish resistance movement organization Home Army but also organizing resistance structures at the camp known as ZOW, Zwi?zek Organizacji Wojskowej. His first report was smuggled to the outside world in November 1940, through an inmate who was released from the camp. He eventually escaped on April 27, 1943, but his personal report of mass killings was dismissed as exaggeration by the Allies, as were his previous ones.

The attitude of the Allies changed with receipt of the very detailed Vrba-Wetzler report, compiled by two Jewish prisoners, Rudolf Vrba andAlfréd Wetzler, who escaped on April 7, 1944, and which finally convinced Allied leaders of the truth about Auschwitz. Details from the Vrba-Wetzler report were broadcast on June 15, 1944 by the BBC, and on June 20 by The New York Times, causing the Allies to put pressure on the Hungarian government to stop the mass deportation of Jews to the camp.

Starting with a plea from the Slovakian rabbi Weissmandl in May 1944, there was a growing campaign to persuade the Allies to bomb Auschwitz or the railway lines leading to it. At one point Winston Churchill ordered that such a plan be prepared, but he was told that bombing the camp would most likely kill prisoners without disrupting the killing operation, and that bombing the railway lines was not technically feasible. The debate over what could have been done, or what should have been attempted even if success was unlikely, has continued ever since.

Underground media

Inmates were able to distribute information from the camp without escaping themselves. The Auschwitzer Echo was an underground newspaper published by inmates and distributed as well to the resistance movement in Kraków. Writers included the Communist Partymember Bruno Baum. A shortwave transmitter hidden in Block 11 sent information directly to the Polish government-in-exile in London.These reports were the first revelation about the Holocaust and were the principal source of intelligence on Auschwitz for the Western Allies. Nonetheless, those reports were for a long time discarded as "too extreme" by the Allies.

Birkenau revolt

Ruins of Crematorium IV, blown up in the revolt

By 1943, resistance organizations had developed in the camp. These organizations helped a few prisoners escape; these escapees took with them news of exterminations, such as the killing of hundreds of thousands of Jews transported from Hungary between May and July 1944. On October 7, 1944, the Jewish Sonderkommandos (those inmates kept separate from the main camp and put to work in the gas chambers and crematoria) of Birkenau Kommando III staged an uprising. They attacked the SS with makeshift weapons: stones, axes, hammers, other work tools and homemade grenades. They caught the SS guards by surprise, overpowered them and blew up the Crematorium IV, using explosives smuggled in from a weapons factory by female inmates. At this stage they were joined by the Birkenau Kommando I of the Crematorium II, which also overpowered their guards and broke out of the compound. Hundreds of prisoners escaped, but were all soon captured and, along with an additional group who participated in the revolt, executed.

There were also plans for a general uprising in Auschwitz, coordinated with an Allied air raid and a Polish resistance (Armia Krajowa, Home Army) attack from the outside. That plan was authored by Polish resistance fighter, Witold Pilecki, who organized in Auschwitz an underground Union of Military Organization – (Zwi?zek Organizacji Wojskowej, ZOW). Pilecki and ZOW hoped that the Allies would drop arms or troops into the camp (most likely the Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade, based in Britain), and that the Home Army would organize an assault on the camp from outside.

By 1943, however, he realized that the Allies had no such plans. Meanwhile, the Gestapo redoubled its efforts to ferret out ZOW members, succeeding in killing many of them. Pilecki decided to break out of the camp, with the hope of personally convincing Home Army leaders that a rescue attempt was a valid option. He escaped on the night of April 26 – 27, 1943, but his plan was not accepted by the Home Army as the Allies considered his reports about the Holocaust exaggerated.

Individual escape attempts  Twenty-two year old Mala Zimetbaum, proficient in five languages, briefly escaped Auschwitz with boyfriend Edek Galinski

At least 802 prisoners attempted to escape from the Auschwitz camps during the years of their operation, of which 144 were successful. The fates of 331 of the escapees are still unknown. A common punishment for escape attempts was death by starvation; the families of successful escapees were sometimes arrested and interned in Auschwitz and prominently displayed to deter others. If someone did manage to escape, the SS would pick 10 people at random from the prisoner's block and starve them to death.

The most spectacular escape from Auschwitz took place on June 20, 1942, when Ukrainian Eugeniusz Bendera and three Poles, Kazimierz Piechowski, Stanis?aw Gustaw Jaster and Józef Lempart made a daring escape. The escapees were dressed as members of the SS-Totenkopfverbände, fully armed and in an SS staff car. They drove out the main gate in a stolen automobile, a Steyr 220 belonging to Rudolf Höss. Jaster carried with him a report about conditions in the camp, written by Witold Pilecki. The Germans never recaptured any of them.

In 1943, the "Kampfgruppe Auschwitz" was organised with the aim to send out as much information about what was happening in Auschwitz as possible. They buried notes in the ground in the hope a liberator would find them and smuggled out photos of the crematoria and gas chambers.

June 24, 1944, Mala Zimetbaum escaped with her Polish boyfriend, Edek Galinski. They also wanted to smuggle out deportation lists Zimetbaum had been able to copy due to her translator job in the office of the "Lagerleitung". They both were arrested on July 6 near the Slovakian frontier and sentenced to be executed on September 15, 1944 in Birkenau; Galinski managed to kill himself before being executed, while Zimetbaum, having failed to commit suicide, died finally after being tortured by the SS.

Evacuation, death marches, and liberation Further information: Death marches (Holocaust) Death march in the final days of the war Survivors at the camp liberated in January 1945

The last selection took place on October 30, 1944. The next month, Heinrich Himmler ordered the crematoria destroyed before the Red Army reached the camp. The gas chambers of Birkenau were blown up by the SS in January 1945 in an attempt to hide the German crimes from the advancing Soviet troops.The SS command sent orders on January 17, 1945 calling for the execution of all prisoners remaining in the camp, but in the chaos of the Nazi retreat the order was never carried out.

On January 17, 1945, Nazi personnel started to evacuate the facility. Nearly 60,000 prisoners were forced on adeath march toward a camp in Wodzis?aw ?l?ski (German: Loslau). Those too weak or sick to walk were left behind. These remaining 7,500 prisoners were liberated by the 322nd Rifle Division of the Red Army on January 27, 1945. Approximately 20,000 Auschwitz prisoners made it to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany, where they were liberated by the British in April 1945. Among the artifacts of automated murder found by the Russians were 348,820 men's suits and 836,255 women's garments.

Death toll Hungarian Jewish children and an elderly woman on the way to the gas chambers of Auschwitz-Birkenau (1944), many children and elderly were murdered immediately after arrival and were never registered.

The exact number of victims at Auschwitz is impossible to fix with certainty. Since the Nazis destroyed a number of records, immediate efforts to count the dead depended on the testimony of witnesses and the defendants on trial at Nuremberg. While under interrogation Rudolf Höss, commandant of Auschwitz concentration camp from 1940 to 1943, said that Adolf Eichmann told him that two and a half million Jews had been killed in gas chambers and about half a million had died "naturally". Later he wrote "I regard two and a half million far too high. Even Auschwitz had limits to its destructive possibilities".

Communist Polish and Soviet authorities maintained a figure "between 2.5 and 4 million" and the Auschwitz State Museum itself displayed a figure of 4 million killed, but "[f]ew (if any) historians ever believed the Museum's four million figure". Raul Hilberg's 1961 work The Destruction of the European Jews estimated the number killed at 1,000,000, and Gerald Reitlinger's 1968 book The Final Solution described the Soviet figures as "ridiculous", and estimated the number killed at "800,000 to 900,000".

In 1983, French scholar George Wellers was one of the first to use German data on deportations to estimate the number killed at Auschwitz, arriving at 1.613 million dead, including 1.44 million Jews and 146,000 Catholic Poles. A larger study started later by Franciszek Piper used timetables of train arrivals combined with deportation records to calculate 960,000 Jewish deaths and 140,000–150,000 ethnic Polish victims, along with 23,000 Romaand Sinti, a figure that has met with significant agreement from other scholars.

After the collapse of the Communist government in 1989, the plaque at Auschwitz State Museum was removed and the official death toll given as 1.1 million. Holocaust deniers have attempted to use this change as propaganda, in the words of the Nizkor Project:

Deniers often use the 'Four Million Variant' as a stepping stone to leap from an apparent contradiction to the idea that the Holocaust was a hoax, again perpetrated by a conspiracy. They hope to discredit historians by making them seem inconsistent. If they can't keep their numbers straight, their reasoning goes, how can we say that their evidence for the Holocaust is credible? One must wonder which historians they speak of, as most have been remarkably consistent in their estimates of a million or so dead... Few (if any) historians ever believed the Museum's four million figure, having arrived at their own estimates independently. The museum's inflated figures were never part of the estimated five to six million Jews killed in the Holocaust, so there is no need to revise this figure.

Timeline of Auschwitz

The timeline of events at the Auschwitz concentration camp began in January 1940 when the location was first visited by Arpad Wigand an aid to the Higher SS and Police Leader for Silesia Erich von dem Bach-Zelewski. The original intent of the camp was to intern Polish political prisoners. The original uses of the camp were added to and the capacity expanded over the course of the next four years, which reflected the political and economic decisions of the Third Reich, including the implementation of the Final Solution.

Timeline of Auschwitz After the war Main articleAuschwitz Trial Ruins of inmates' barracks at Birkenau

After the war, parts of Auschwitz 1 and/or its guards' quarters served first as a hospital for sick liberated prisoners. Until 1947 some of the facilities were used as an NKVD andMBP prison camp. The Buna–Werke were taken over by the Polish government and became the foundation for the region's chemical industry.

At Auschwitz 1 the Gestapo building was demolished and on its site was built a gallows on which Standartenführer SSRudolf Höss was hanged on April 17, 1947 for numerous war crimes. On November 24, 1947, the Auschwitz trial began in Kraków, when the Poland's Supreme National Tribunaltried 41 former staff of the Auschwitz concentration camps complex. The trials ended on December 22, 1947, with 23 death sentences issued, as well as 16 imprisonments ranging from life sentence to 3 years.

After liberation, local Polish farming population returning to the area searched the ruins of Birkenau thoroughly for re-usable fallen bricks, so they could rebuild farm buildings for shelter needed for the next winter. That explains the "missing rubble" argument brought up by Holocaust deniers.

Today, at Birkenau the entrance building and some of the southern brick-built barracks survive; but of the almost 300 wooden barracks, only 19 have been reconstructed from authentic materials: 18 near the entrance building and one, on its own, farther away. All that survives of the others are chimneys, remnants of a largely ineffective means of heating. Many of these wooden buildings were constructed from prefabricated sections made by a company that intended them to be used as stables; inside, numerous metal rings for the tethering of horses can still be seen.



Josef Mengele

Josef Rudolf Mengele (German pronunciation: [?jo?z?f ??u?d?lf ?m????l?],

 March 16, 1911 – February 7, 1979

also known as the Angel of Death (German:Todesengel) was a German SS officer and a physician in the Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau. He earned doctorates in anthropology from Munich University and in medicine from Frankfurt University. He initially gained notoriety for being one of the SS physicians who supervised the selection of arriving transports of prisoners, determining who was to be killed and who was to become a forced laborer, but is far more infamous for performing grisly human experiments on camp inmates, including children, for which Mengele was called the "Angel of Death."

In 1940, he was placed in the reserve medical corps, after which he served with the5th SS Panzergrenadier Division Wiking in the Eastern Front. In 1942, he was wounded at the Soviet front and was pronounced medically unfit for combat, and was then promoted to the rank of SS-Hauptsturmführer (Captain) for saving the lives of three German soldiers. He survived the war, and after a period living incognito in Germany he fled to South America, where he evaded capture for the rest of his life despite being hunted as a Nazi war criminal.

Josef Mengele was born the eldest of three children to Karl and Walburga (née Hupfauer) Mengele in Günzburg, Bavaria, Germany. His younger brothers were Karl Junior and Alois Mengele. Mengele's father was a founder of the Karl Mengele & Sons company, a company that produced farm machinery for milling, sawing, and baling. In 1935, Mengele earned a PhD in Anthropology from the University of Munich. In January 1937, at the Institute for Hereditary Biology and Racial Hygiene inFrankfurt, he became the assistant to Dr. Otmar Freiherr von Verschuer who was a leading scientist mostly known for his research in genetics with a particular interest in twins. From this association, Mengele probably developed his life-long fascination with the study of twins. In addition Mengele studied under Theodor Mollison and Eugen Fischer, who had been involved in medical experiments on the Herero tribe in South-West Africa, now Namibia. On July 28, 1939, Mengele married Irene Schönbein, whom he had met while studying in Leipzig. Their only son, Rolf, was born March 11, 1941. Five years after Mengele emigrated to Buenos Aires in 1949, his wife Irene divorced him. She continued to live in Germany with their son. On July 25, 1958, in Nueva Helvecia, Uruguay, Mengele was remarried to Martha Mengele, the widow of his younger brother Karl. Martha Mengele had arrived in Buenos Aires in 1956 with Karl-Heinz, her son from her first marriage. Josef and Martha had no further children.

Military service

In 1937 Mengele joined the Nazi Party. In 1938 he received his medical degree and joined the SS. Mengele was conscripted into the army in 1940 and later volunteered to the medical service of the Waffen-SS, the combat arm of the SS, where he distinguished himself as a soldier. Hitler declared war against the Soviet Union on 22nd June 1941. Later that month Mengele was awarded the Iron Cross Second Class for his heroism at the Ukrainian Front. In January 1942, while serving with the SS Wiking Division behind Soviet lines, he pulled two German soldiers from a burning tank, and was awarded the Iron Cross First Class as well as the Wound Badge in Black and the Medal for the Care of the German People. Mengele was wounded during this campaign; since he was medically unfit for combat, Mengele was posted to the Race and Resettlement Office in Berlin. Mengele resumed an association with his mentor, von Verschuer, who was at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Anthropology, Human Genetics and Eugenics in Berlin. Just before he was transferred to Auschwitz, Mengele was promoted to the rank of SS-Hauptsturmführer (Captain) in April 1943.


In May 1943, Mengele replaced another doctor who had fallen ill at the Nazi extermination camp Birkenau. On May 24, 1943, he became medical officer of Auschwitz-Birkenau's "Gypsy camp". In August 1944, this camp was liquidated and all its inmates gassed. Subsequently Mengele became Chief Medical Officer of the main infirmary camp at Birkenau. He was not the Chief Medical Officer of Auschwitz, though: his superior was SS-Standortarzt (garrison physician) Eduard Wirths.

During his 21-month stay at Auschwitz, Mengele earned the sobriquet "Angel of Death" for the cruelty he visited upon prisoners. Mengele was referred to as "der weiße Engel" ("the White Angel") by camp inmates because when he stood on the platform inspecting new arrivals and directing some to the right, some to the left (the gas chambers), his white coat and white arms outstretched evoked the image of a white angel. Mengele took turns with the other SS physicians at Auschwitz in meeting incoming prisoners at the camp, where it was determined who would be retained for work and who would be sent to the gas chambers immediately. In one instance, he drew a line on the wall of the children's block 150 centimetres (about 5 feet) from the floor, and children whose heads could not reach the line were sent to the gas chambers.

"He had a look that said 'I am the power,'" said one survivor. When it was reported that one block was infested with lice, Mengele ordered the 750 women that lived inside the dormitories to be gassed.

Human experimentation Block 10 – Medical experimentation block in Auschwitz

Mengele used Auschwitz as an opportunity to continue his research on heredity, using inmates forhuman experimentation. He was particularly interested in identical twins; they would be selected and placed in special barracks. He recruited Berthold Epstein, a Jewish pediatrician, and Miklós Nyiszli, a Hungarian Jewish pathologist, to assist with his experiments.

As a doctor, Epstein proposed to Mengele a study into treatments of the disease called noma that was noted for particularly affecting children from the camp. While the exact cause of noma remains uncertain, it is now known that it has a higher occurrence in children suffering frommalnutrition and a lower immune system response. Many develop the disease shortly after contracting another illness such as measles or tuberculosis.

Mengele took an interest in physical abnormalities discovered among the arrivals at the concentration camp. These included dwarfs, notably the Ovitz family – the children of a Romanianartist, seven of whom were dwarfs. Prior to their deportation, they toured in Eastern Europe as the Lilliput Troupe. Mengele often called them "my dwarf family"; to him they seemed to be the perfect expression of "the abnorm".

Mengele's experiments also included attempts to change eye colour by injecting chemicals into children's eyes, various amputations of limbs, and other surgeriesRena Gelissen's account of her time in Auschwitz details certain experiments performed on female prisoners around October 1943. Mengele would experiment on the chosen girls, performing sterilization and shock treatments. Most of the victims died, because of either the experiments or later infections.

"Once Mengele's assistant rounded up 14 pairs of Roma twins during the night. Mengele placed them on his polished marble dissection table and put them to sleep. He then injected chloroform into their hearts, killing them instantly. Mengele then began dissecting and meticulously noting each piece of the twins' bodies."

At Auschwitz, Mengele did a number of studies on twins. After an experiment was over, the twins were usually killed and their bodies dissected. He supervised an operation by which two Roma children were sewn together to create conjoined twins; the hands of the children became badly infected where the veins had been resected; this also caused gangrene.

The subjects of Mengele's research were better fed and housed than ordinary prisoners and were, for the time being, safe from the gas chambers, although many experiments resulted in more painful deaths. When visiting his child subjects, he introduced himself as "Uncle Mengele" and offered them sweets. Some survivors remember that despite his grim acts, he was also called "Mengele the protector".

The book Children of the Flames, by Lucette Matalon Lagnado and Shiela Cohn Dekel, chronicles Mengele's medical experimental activities on approximately 1,500 pairs of twins who passed through the Auschwitz death camp during World War II until its liberation at the end of the war. Only 100 pairs of twins survived; 60 years later, they came forward about the special privileges they were given in Auschwitz owing to Mengele's interest in twins, and how as a result they have suffered, as the children who survived his medical experiments and injections.

Mengele also sought out pregnant women, on whom he would perform vivisections before sending them to the gas chambers.

Auschwitz prisoner Alex Dekel has said: "I have never accepted the fact that Mengele himself believed he was doing serious work – not from the slipshod way he went about it. He was only exercising his power. Mengele ran a butcher shop – major surgeries were performed withoutanaesthesia. Once, I witnessed a stomach operation – Mengele was removing pieces from the stomach, but without any anaesthetic. Another time, it was a heart that was removed, again without anaesthesia. It was horrifying. Mengele was a doctor who became mad because of the power he was given. Nobody ever questioned him – why did this one die? Why did that one perish? The patients did not count. He professed to do what he did in the name of science, but it was a madness on his part."

An Auschwitz prisoner doctor has said: "He was capable of being so kind to the children, to have them become fond of him, to bring them sugar, to think of small details in their daily lives, and to do things we would genuinely admire.... And then, next to that,... the crematoria smoke, and these children, tomorrow or in a half-hour, he is going to send them there. Well, that is where the anomaly lay."

In South America Josef Mengele in 1956. Photo taken by a police photographer in Buenos Aires for Mengele's Argentine identification document.

In Buenos Aires, Mengele at first worked in construction, but soon came in contact with influential Germans, who allowed him an affluent lifestyle in subsequent years. He also got to know other Nazis in Buenos Aires, such as Hans-Ulrich Rudel and Adolf Eichmann. In 1955, he bought a 50 percent share of Fadro Farm, a pharmaceutical company; the same year, he divorced his wife, Irene. Three years later, he married Martha Mengele in Uruguay, the widow of his younger brother, Karl Jr.; she then went to Argentina with her 14-year-old son, Dieter. Mengele lived with his family in a German-owned boarding house in the Buenos Aires suburb of Vicente Lopez from 1958 to 1960. While in Buenos Aires, Mengele practiced medicine, specializing in illegal abortions, and was briefly detained by police on one occasion for the death of a patient during an abortion.

Mengele's home in Hohenau, Paraguay

He was doing well in South America, yet Mengele feared being captured, especially after news of Eichmann's capture and subsequent trial were revealed. Thus, he left Argentina in 1962 and moved to Paraguay after managing to get a Paraguayan passport in the name of "José Mengele".

Shortly after the capture of Eichmann in May 1960 by the Israeli Mossad, Mengele was spotted at his home. Agents of Mossad debated whether or not also to kidnap him. However, they still had Eichmann in a safe house inside Argentina, and determined that it would not be possible to conduct another operation at the same time. By the time Eichmann had been brought out of the country, Mengele had escaped to Paraguay.

Isser Harel, Chief Executive of the Secret Services of Israel (1952–1963), personally presided over the successful effort to capture Eichmann in Buenos Aires. In his account of the operation, he reports no sightings of Mengele in 1960, but feels that they might have got him if they could have moved more quickly. When asked about the secondary target by the co-pilot who helped transport Eichmann at the time, he claims to have told him that "had it been possible to start the operation several weeks earlier, Mengele might also have been on the plane." They checked on the last known location for Mengele in Argentina, but he had apparently moved on just two weeks prior.

Mengele hoped that Paraguay would be safer for him, as dictator Alfredo Stroessner was of German descent and even recruited former Nazis to help the country develop. Among other locations in Paraguay, he lived on the outskirts of Hohenau, a German colony north of Encarnaciónin the department of Itapúa.

According to a senior Mossad man, Israel had received reports that Mengele was in Brazil, but they kept this information to themselves. The Six-Day War in 1967 forced concentration of resources. But after the war, Israel decided to open an embassy in Asunción, Paraguay – perhaps an ideal base from which to pursue Mengele. But Benjamin Weiser Varon, Israeli ambassador from 1968–1972, was "not given any instructions by the foreign office on Mengele of any kind. It wasn't even mentioned."

"I must confess I was not so eager to find Mengele. He presented a dilemma. Israel had less of a claim for his extradition than Germany. He was, after all, a German citizen who had committed his crimes in the name of the Third Reich. None of his victims were Israeli—Israel came into existence only several years later."

The same year, Mengele moved to Nova Europa, about 200 km (120 mi) outside São Paulo, where he lived with Hungarian refugees Geza and Gitta Stammer, working as manager of their farm. In the seclusion of his Brazilian hideaway Mengele was safe. In 1974, when his relationship with the Stammer family was coming to an end, Hans-Ulrich Rudel and Wolfgang Gerhard discussed relocating Mengele to Bolivia where he could spend time with Klaus Barbie, but Mengele rejected this proposal. Instead, he lived in a bungalow in a suburb of São Paulo for the last years of his life. In 1977, his only son Rolf, never having known his father before, visited him there and found an unrepentant Nazi who claimed that he "had never personally harmed anyone in his whole life".

Mengele's health had been deteriorating for years, and he died on February 7, 1979, in Bertioga, Brazil, where he accidentally drowned or possibly suffered a stroke while swimming in the Atlantic. He was buried in Embu das Artes under the name "Wolfgang Gerhard", whose ID card he had used since 1976.

Mengele showed little regret or remorse for his crimes, and expressed in a letter his astonishment and disgust over the remorseful position taken by Hitler's chief architect and Minister of Armaments, Albert Speer.

Argentine historian Jorge Camarasa speculated in his 2008 biography that Mengele, under the alias Rudolph Weiss, continued his human experimentation in South America and as a result of these experiments, a municipality in Brazil, Cândido Godói, has a very high birthrate of twin children: one in five pregnancies, with a substantial amount of the population looking Nordic. His theory was rejected by Brazilian scientists who had studied twins living in the area; they suggested genetic factors within that community as a more likely explanation.


Mengele was listed on the Allies' list of war criminals as early as 1944. His name was mentioned in the Nuremberg trials several times, but Allied forces were convinced that Mengele was dead, which was also claimed by Irene and the family in Günzburg. In 1959, suspicions had grown that he was still alive, given his divorce from Irene in 1955 and his marriage to Martha in 1958. An arrest warrant was issued by the West German authorities. Subsequently, West German attorneys such as Fritz Bauer, Israel's Mossad, and private investigators such asSimon Wiesenthal and Beate Klarsfeld followed the trail of the "Angel of Death". The last confirmed sightings of Mengele placed him inParaguay, and it was believed that he was still hiding there, allegedly protected by flying ace Hans-Ulrich Rudel and possibly even by the dictator President Alfredo Stroessner. Mengele sightings were reported all over the world, but they turned out to be false.

In 1985, the West German police raided Hans Sedlmeier's house in Günzburg and seized address books, letters, and papers hinting at the grave in Embu. The remains of "Wolfgang Gerhard" were exhumed on June 6, 1985 and identified as Mengele's with high probability byforensic experts from UNICAMP. Rolf Mengele issued a statement saying that he "had no doubt it was the remains of his father". Everything was kept quiet "to protect those who knew him in South America", Rolf said. In 1992, a DNA test confirmed Mengele's identity. He had evaded capture for 34 years.

After the exhumation, the São Paulo Institute for Forensic Medicine stored his remains and attempted to repatriate them to the remaining Mengele family members, but the family rejected them. The bones have been stored in the São Paulo Institute for Forensic Medicine since.

In the 21st century

On September 17, 2007, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum released photographs taken from a photo album of Auschwitz staff, which contained eight photographs of Mengele. These eight photos of Mengele are the first authenticated pictures of him at Auschwitz, museum officials said.

In February 2010, Mengele's diary, kept from 1960 until his death in 1979, which included letters sent to Rolf and Wolfgang Gerhard was sold at auction in Connecticut by Alexander Autographs for an estimated $100,000 (£60,000). According to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) the buyer was an East Coast Jewish philanthropist who wished to remain anonymous. The auction caused protest amongst some Holocaust survivors, describing it as "a cynical act of exploitation aimed at profiting from the writings of one of the most heinous Nazi criminals." The previous owner, who acquired the diary in Brazil, is said to be close to the Mengele family


  • March 16, 1911 – February 7, 1979

SS Command of Auschwitz Concentration Camp

The SS command of Auschwitz concentration camp refers to those units, commands, and agencies of the German SS which operated and administered the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II; it is not a list of all personnel who served at Auschwitz, but does include those in command positions. Due to its large size and key role in the Nazi genocide program, the Auschwitz Concentration Camp encompassed personnel from several different branches of the SS, some of which held overlapping and shared areas of responsibility.

There were over 7,000 SS personnel who served at Auschwitz from the time of the camp's construction in 1940 to the camp's liberation by theRed Army in January 1945. Fewer than 800 were ever tried for war crimes, the most notable of which was the trial of camp commander Rudolf Hoess as well as several others tried between 1946 and 1948.

The supreme commander of the SS, Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler, was the highest SS official with knowledge of Auschwitz and the function which the camp served. Himmler was known to issue direct orders to the camp commander, bypassing all other chains of command, in response to his own directives. Himmler would also occasionally receive broad instructions from Adolf Hitler or Hermann Göring, which he would then interpret as he saw fit and transmit to the Auschwitz Camp Commander.

Below Himmler, the senior most operational SS commander involved with Auschwitz was SS-Obergruppenführer Oswald Pohl, who served as head of the SS-Economics Main Office, known as the SS-Wirtschafts-Verwaltungshauptamt or SS-WVHA. Pohl's subordinate,SS-Gruppenführer Richard Glucks, served as the Amtschef (Department Chief) of the Concentration Camps Inspectorate which was known as "Department D" within the WVHA. It was Glucks who may be seen as the direct superior to the camp commandant of Auschwitz,SS-Obersturmbannführer Rudolf Höss.

In addition to this direct chain of command, the geograpical location of Auschwitz placed some of its supply and wartime functions under the authoirity of Regional SS and Nazi Party leaders. When the camp was first constructed, Auschwitz was located within the borders of the newly established General Government, under the control of Reichsleiter Hans Frank. Before Auschwitz was a death camp, Frank left the running of the camp mostly to the SS, although did know of the camp's existence since the early Auschwitz fell under his geographical authority. Simultaneously, all SS activities at Auschwitz were under the authority of the Higher SS and Police Leader "Ost" (east) who, during most of Auschwitz's existence, was Friedrich Wilhelm Krüger (Wilhelm Koppe also held this position from late 1943 to early 1945). Krüger's subordinate, the SS and Police Leader of Krakow was also technically senior to the Commander of Auschwitz and could issue orders concerning wartime needs.

By 1942, the territory in which Auschwitz lay had been absorbed into the German state of Upper Silesia and thereafter was under geographical control of the corresponding Gauleiter. For most of the camp's later half of existence, this person was Karl Hanke, who both visited Auschwitz and had full knowledge of the camp's operation. During Hanke's tenure, the SS command of the region stayed the same, with the addition of Auschwitz now falling under the administrative realm of the Allgemeine-SS division SS-Oberabschnitt Südost. The 23rd SS-Standarte also was a General-SS counterpart to the Waffen-SS personnel of the region, many of whom were stationed at Auschwitz.

As well as falling under a direct and geographical chain of command, the nature of the work at Auschwitz also had the camp coming under the sphere of the SS-Reichssicherheitshauptamt, or RSHA. Both Reinhard Heydrich and later Ernest Kaltenbrunner routinely were briefed on activities at Auschwitz through Adolf Eichmann, assigned head of RSHA Referat IV B4 (RSHA Sub-Department IV-B4), who dealt with supervising the transportation of Jews to Auschwitz and had visited the camp on several occasions.

A final group which had interest in Auschwitz were the various German ministries concerned with war production, slave labor, and manpower. During the Nuremburg Trials, heavy emphasis was placed on the knowledge which the civil government of Nazi Germany had of Auschwitz, which was a primary source of labor for such major firms as IG Farben. Both Fritz Sauckel and Albert Speer were directly accused of having knowledge of Auschwitz, although both denied knowing the scope of the genocide program in place there

Camp leadership and personnel

The camp commander of Auschwitz, as well as the senior camp officers and non-commissioned officers, were all members of the SS-Totenkopfverbande, or the SS-TV. Due to a 1941 personnel directive from the SS Personalhauptamt, members of the SS-TV were also considered full members of the Waffen-SS. Such personnel were further authorized to display the Death's Head Collar Patch, indicating full membership in both the SS-TV and Waffen-SS.

The Auschwitz Commandant was assigned a full time administrative staff to which answered a primary adjutant as well as several other SS officers in charge of supply, finance, and other administrative needs. Auschwitz also maintained a motor pool as well as an arsenal from which all the SS personnel would draw weapons and ammunition, although several of the SS were known to purchase their own handguns and other weapons.

Administrative and supply SS personnel were assigned mostly to the camp headquarters at the Auschwitz I camp. Such personnel, many of whom were Waffen-SS members but not members of the SS-TV camp service, were usually "out of the way" of the more horrific activities of the camp. Oskar Gröning is one such well known Auschwitz clerk, who has appeared on several documentaries speaking about life in Auschwitz for the SS, and how living in the camp was in fact an enjoyable experience.

Internal camp order was under the authority of SS-TV members answering directly to the Camp Commander through officers known as Lagerführers. Each of the three main camps at Auschwitz was assigned a Lagerführer to which answered several SS-non-commissioned officers known as Rapportführers. The Rapportführer commanded several Blockführer who oversaw order within individual prisoner barracks. Assisting the SS with this task was a large collection of Kapos, who were trustee prisoners.

Camp Guards

External camp security was under the authority of an SS unit known as the "Guard Battalion", or Wachbattalion. These guards manned watchtowers and patrolled the perimeter fences of the camp. During an emergency, such as a prisoner uprising, the Guard Battalion could be deployed within the camp. the Guard battalion was organized on military lines with a Battalion Commander, Company and Platoon Leaders, as well as non-commissioned officers and enliste3d SS soldiers. Camp guards were either members of the SS-TV or Waffen-SS veterans rotated into the concentration camp system due to wounds in action or for some other administrative reason.

Ironically, contrary to the stereotypical image of the "Concentration Camp Guard", members of the Guard Battalion seldom, if ever, had direct contact with prisoners. Exceptions occurred due to prisoner escapes or uprisings, of which the 1944 Crematorium Revolt (depicted in the filmThe Grey Zone where the Guard Battalion enters and machine guns a crematorium) is one such example.

Camp medical personnel

Auschwitz maintained its own medical corps, led by Eduard Wirths, whose doctors and medical personnel were from various backgrounds in the SS. The infamous Josef Mengele, for example, was a combat field doctor in the Waffen-SS before transferring to Auschwitz after being wounded in combat.

Personnel involved in genocide

SS personnel assigned to the gas chambers were technically under the same chain of command as other internal camp SS personnel, but in practice were segregated and worked and lived locally on site at the crematorium. In all, there were usually four SS personnel per gas chamber, led by a non-commissioned officer, who oversaw around one hundred Jewish prisoners (known as the Sonderkommando) forced to assist in the extermination process.

The actual delivery of the gas to the victims was always handled by the SS, this was accomplished by a special SS unit known as the "Hygiene Division" which would drive Zyklon B to the crematorium in an ambulance and then empty the canister into the gas chamber. The Hygiene Division was under the control of the Auschwitz Medical Corps, with the Zyklon B ordered and delivered through the camp supply system.

Female camp personnel Main article: Female guards in Nazi concentration camps

Female personnel assigned to Auschwitz were considered members of the SS Womens Auxiliary and were known as SS-Helferin. Such women served in a variety of roles from secretariesnurses, and (most notoriously) guards of female compounds within Auschwitz.

Heinrich Himmler

Heinrich Luitpold Himmler (pronounced [?ha?n??ç ?lu??t?p?lt ?h?ml?] 

( 7 October 1900 – 23 May 1945)

was Reichsführer of the SS, a military commander, and a leading member of the Nazi Party. As Chief of the German Police and the Minister of the Interior from 1943, Himmler oversaw all internal and external police and security forces, including the Gestapo(Secret State Police). Serving as Reichsführer and later as Commander of the Replacement (Home) Army and General Plenipotentiary for the entire Reich's administration (Generalbevollmächtigter für die Verwaltung), Himmler rose to become one of the most powerful men in Nazi Germany as well as one of the persons most directly responsible for theHolocaust.

As overseer of the concentration campsextermination camps, and Einsatzgruppen (literally: task forces, often used as killing squads), Himmler coordinated the killing of some six millionJews, between 200,000 and 500,000 Roma, many prisoners of war, and possibly another three to four million Polescommunists, or other groups whom the Nazis deemed unworthy to live or simply "in the way", including homosexuals, people with physical and mentaldisabilitiesJehovah's Witnesses and members of the Confessing Church. Shortly before the end of the war, he offered to surrender both Germany and himself to the Western Allies if he were spared prosecution. After being arrested by British forces on 22 May 1945, he committed suicide the following day before he could be questioned.

Himmler and the Holocaust

In contrast to Hitler, Himmler inspected concentration camps. As a result of these inspections, the Nazis searched for a new and more expedient way to kill, which culminated in the use of thegas chambers.After the Night of the Long Knives, the SS-Totenkopfverbände organized and administered Germany's regime of concentration camps and, after 1941, extermination camps in occupied Poland as well. The SS—through its intelligence arm, the Security Service (Sicherheitsdienst, or SD)—dealt with JewsGypsiescommunists and those persons of any other cultural, racial, political or religious affiliation deemed by the Nazis to be either Untermensch (sub-human) or in opposition to the regime, and placed them in concentration camps. Himmler opened the first of these camps at Dachau on 22 March 1933. He was the main architect of the Holocaust, using elements of mysticism and a fanatical belief in the racist Nazi ideology to justify the murder of millions of victims. Himmler had similar plans for the Poles; intellectuals were to be killed, and most other Poles were to be only literate enough to read traffic signs. On 18 December 1941, Himmler's appointment book shows he met with Hitler. The entry for that day poses the question "What to do with the Jews of Russia?", and then answers the question "als Partisanen auszurotten" (exterminate them as partisans").

Himmler wanted to breed a master race of Nordic Aryans in Germany. His experience as a chicken farmer had taught him the rudiments of animal breeding which he proposed to apply to humans. He believed that he could engineer the German populace, through eugenic selective breeding, to be entirely "Nordic" in appearance within several decades of the end of the war.

On 4 October 1943, Himmler referred explicitly to the extermination of the Jewish people during a secret SS meeting in the city of Pozna? (Posen). The following is a translation of an excerpt from a transcription of an audio recording that exists of the speech:

I also want to refer here very frankly to a very difficult matter. We can now very openly talk about this among ourselves, and yet we will never discuss this publicly. Just as we did not hesitate on 30 June 1934, to perform our duty as ordered and put comrades who had failed up against the wall and execute them, we also never spoke about it, nor will we ever speak about it. Let us thank God that we had within us enough self-evident fortitude never to discuss it among us, and we never talked about it. Every one of us was horrified, and yet every one clearly understood that we would do it next time, when the order is given and when it becomes necessary.

I am now referring to the evacuation of the Jews, to the extermination of the Jewish People. This is something that is easily said: 'The Jewish People will be exterminated', says every Party member, 'this is very obvious, it is in our program — elimination of the Jews, extermination, a small matter.' And then they turn up, the upstanding 80 million Germans, and each one has his decent Jew. They say the others are all swine, but this particular one is a splendid Jew. But none has observed it, endured it. Most of you here know what it means when 100 corpses lie next to each other, when there are 500 or when there are 1,000. To have endured this and at the same time to have remained a decent person — with exceptions due to human weaknesses — has made us tough, and is a glorious chapter that has not and will not be spoken of. Because we know how difficult it would be for us if we still had Jews as secret saboteurs, agitators and rabble rousers in every city, what with the bombings, with the burden and with the hardships of the war. If the Jews were still part of the German nation, we would most likely arrive now at the state we were at in 1916 and '17 . . . .


As Reich Commissioner for the Consolidation of German Nationhood, Himmler was deeply involved in the Germanization program for the East, particularly Poland. Its purpose was to remove all non-Germanic peoples from German Lebensraum and to reclaim any Volkdeutsche(ethnic Germans) living there for Germany, as laid out in the Generalplan Ost. He declared that no drop of German blood would be lost or left behind for an alien race. Himmler continued his plans to colonize the east despite evidence that Germans did not want to relocate there, and that the activities hindered the war effort; several high-ranking Nazi officials found the latter point obvious.

The plans began with the Volksliste, the classification of people deemed of German blood into those Germans who had collaborated before the war; those still regarding themselves as German, but who had been neutral; partially Polonized but Germanizable; and those Germans who had been absorbed into Polish nationality. Any person classified as German who resisted was to be deported to a concentration camp. Himmler oversaw cases of obstinate Germans, and gave orders for concentration camps, or separation of families, or forced labor, in efforts to break down resistance.

His declaration that "it is in the nature of German blood to resist" led to the paradoxical conclusion that Balts or Poles who resisted Germanization measures were regarded as more suitable material than more compliant ones.

This included the kidnapping of Eastern European children by Nazi Germany. Himmler urged:

"Obviously in such a mixture of peoples, there will always be some racially good types, Therefore, I think that it is our duty to take their children with us, to remove them from their environment, if necessary by robbing, or stealing them. Either we win over any good blood that we can use for ourselves and give it a place in our people, or we destroy that blood."

The "racially valuable" children were to be culled, removed from all contact with Poles, and raised as Germans, with German names.Himmler declared, "We have faith above all in this our own blood, which has flowed into a foreign nationality through the vicissitudes of German history. We are convinced that our own philosophy and ideals will reverberate in the spirit of these children who racially belong to us." Acceptable children were to be adopted by German families. Children who passed muster at first but were later rejected were used as slave labor or killed. Himmler ordered that parents who were registered on the Volksliste should lose their children if the parent impeded their Germanization.

The colony of Hegewald was set up in the Reichskommisariat Ukraine at his command. His original plans to recruit settlers from Scandinavia and the Netherlands were unsuccessful, and so it was settled with such ethnic Germans as had not been deported by the Soviet Union.

For the Nazi leaders, the land which would provide sufficient Lebensraum for Germany was the Soviet Union. At the Nuremberg trial, SS-Obergruppenfuhrer Erich von dem Bach testified that at a conference in Wewelsburg in 1941 Himmler told SS leaders that to make room for the Germans, Germany would have to exterminate 30 million Slavs in the Soviet Union.

On July 13, 1941, three weeks after the invasion of the Soviet Union, Himmler told the group of Waffen SS men:

“ This is an ideological battle and a struggle of races. Here in this struggle stands National Socialism: an ideology based on the value of our Germanic, Nordic blood. ... On the other side stands a population of 180 million, a mixture of races, whose very names are unpronounceable, and whose physique is such that one can shoot them down without pity and compassion. These animals, that torture and ill-treat every prisoner from our side, every wounded man that they come across and do not treat them the way decent soldiers would, you will see for yourself. These people have been welded by the Jews into one religion, one ideology, that is called Bolshevism... When you, my men, fight over there in the East, you are carrying on the same struggle, against the same subhumanity, the same inferior races, that at one time appeared under the name of Huns, another time— 1000 years ago at the time of King Henry and Otto I— under the name of Magyars, another time under the name of Tartars, and still another time under the name of Genghis Khan and the Mongols. Today they appear as Russians under the political banner of Bolshevism. ” Anti-Polish measures Polish prisoners from Buchenwaldawaiting execution in the forest near the camp.

For a time, the Polish population would be permitted to remain as slave labor. Himmler forbade that this group, not suitable for Germanization, receive anything above a fourth-grade education.The removal of the racially valuable types would deprive the population of leaders, and ensure that they were available for labor.

He also prescribed that as many ethnic groups as possible be recognized in order to foment disunity.

By this I mean that it is very much in our interest not only not to unite the people of the East but the reverse -- to splinter them into as many parts and subdivisions as possible. We should also aim for a situation in which, after a longer period of time has passed, the concept of nationality disappears among the Ukrainians, Górale, and Lemki.

This is partly reflected in his views on blood and soil, where he came the closest of all Nazis to supporting the views of Alfred Rosenberg. His interest in Richard Walther Darré stemmed from Darré's views on repopulating eastern regions with Germans.

This also reflected Nazi policy on non-Germans. The Posen speech also calls for the merciless use of all Slavonic forced labor on this ground:

“ What happens to a Russian, to a Czech, does not interest me in the slightest. What the nations can offer in good blood of our type, we will take, if necessary by kidnapping their children and raising them with us. Whether nations live in prosperity or starve to death interests me only in so far as we need them as slaves for our culture; otherwise, it is of no interest to me. Whether 10,000 Russian females fall down from exhaustion while digging an anti-tank ditch interest me only in so far as the anti-tank ditch for Germany is finished. We shall never be rough and heartless when it is not necessary, that is clear. We Germans, who are the only people in the world who have a decent attitude towards animals, will also assume a decent attitude towards these human animals. But it is a crime against our own blood to worry about them and give them ideals, thus causing our sons and grandsons to have a more difficult time with them. When someone comes to me and says, "I cannot dig the anti-tank ditch with women and children, it is inhuman, for it will kill them", then I would have to say, "you are a murderer of your own blood because if the anti-tank ditch is not dug, German soldiers will die, and they are the sons of German mothers. They are our own blood". ”

He also called for sexual relations between German women and Polish slave laborers to be punished by death for the man and a concentration camp for the woman.

World War II Himmler (behind flag) with Hitler (only back, left of the flag) in Poland in September 1939

In 1939, Himmler masterminded Operation Himmler (also known as Operation Konserve or Operation Canned Goods), arguably the first operation of World War II in Europe. It was a false flag project to create the appearance of Polish aggression against Germany, which was subsequently used by Nazi propaganda to justify the invasion of Poland.

Before the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 (Operation Barbarossa), Himmler prepared his SS for a war of extermination against the forces of "Judeo-Bolshevism". Himmler, always glad to make parallels between Nazi Germany and the Middle Ages, compared the invasion to the Crusades. He collected volunteers from all over Europe, especially those of Nordic stock who were perceived to be racially closest to Germans, like the Danes,NorwegiansSwedesIcelanders, and the Dutch. After the invasion, UkrainiansLatvians,Lithuanians, and Estonian volunteers were recruited, attracting the non-Germanic volunteers by declaring a pan-European crusade to defend the traditional values of old Europe from the "Godless Bolshevik hordes". Thousands volunteered and later many thousands more were conscripted.

Racial restrictions were relaxed to the extent that TatarsArabsAlbanians from Kosovo, Central Asian and Bosnian Muslims, and evenIndians and Mongols were recruited.

In the Baltic states, many natives were willing to serve against the Red Army due to their loathing of their oppression after the occupation by the Soviet Union. These men were conscripted into the Waffen-SS. Employed against Soviet troops, they performed acceptably.[52] Waffen-SS recruitment in Western and Nordic Europe collected much less manpower, though a number of Waffen-SS Legions were founded, such as the Wallonian contingent led by Léon Degrelle, whom Himmler planned to appoint chancellor of an SS State of Burgundy within the Nazi orbit once the war was over.

Himmler inspects a prisoner of war camp in Russia. Some 2.8 million Soviet POWswere killed in just eight months of 1941–42

Between 140,000 and 500,000 Soviet prisoners of war died or were executed in Nazi concentration camps, most of them by shooting or gassing.

In 1942, Reinhard Heydrich (Himmler's right hand man) was assassinated in Prague after an attack by British Special Operations Executive (SOE), trained soldiers, Jozef Gab?ík and Jan Kubiš of Czechoslovakia’s army-in-exile. Himmler ordered brutal reprisals. Over 13,000 people were arrested, and the village of Lidice was razed to the ground; the male inhabitants there and in the village of Ležáky were murdered. At least 1,300 people were "executed" by firing squads after Heydrich's death.

Interior Minister

In 1943, Himmler was appointed Reich Interior Minister, replacing Frick, with whom he had engaged in a turf war for over a decade. For instance, Frick had tried to restrict the widespread use of "protective custody" orders that were used to send people to concentration camps, only to be begged off by Himmler. While Frick viewed the concentration camps as a tool to punish dissenters, Himmler saw them as a way to terrorize the people into accepting Nazi rule.

Himmler's appointment effectively merged the Interior Ministry with the SS. Nonetheless, Himmler sought to use his new office to reverse the party apparatus's annexation of the civil service and tried to challenge the authority of the party gauleiters.

This aspiration was frustrated by Martin Bormann, Hitler's private secretary and party chancellor. It also incurred some displeasure from Hitler himself, whose long-standing disdain for the traditional civil service was one of the foundations of Nazi administrative thinking. Himmler made things much worse still when following his appointment as head of the Reserve Army (Ersatzheer, see below) he tried to use his authority in both military and police matters by transferring policemen to the Waffen-SS.

With Himmler threatening his power base, Bormann could not give him the opportunity fast enough, initially acquiescing in the policies, until furious protests broke out. Then, Bormann came out against the scheme, leaving Himmler discredited, especially with the party, whose gauleiters now saw Bormann as their protector.

20 July plot

It was determined that leaders of German Military Intelligence (the Abwehr), including its head, Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, were involved in the20 July 1944 plot to assassinate Hitler. This prompted Hitler to disband the Abwehr and make Himmler's Security Service (Sicherheitsdienst, or SD) the sole intelligence service of the Third Reich. This increased Himmler's personal power.

General Friedrich Fromm, Commander-in-Chief of the Reserve (or Replacement) Army (Ersatzheer), was implicated in the conspiracy. Fromm's removal, coupled with Hitler's suspicion of the army, led the way to Himmler's appointment as Fromm's successor, a position he abused to expand the Waffen-SS even further to the detriment of the rapidly deteriorating German armed forces (Wehrmacht).

Azeri SS volunteer formation which fought on Germany's side, during theWarsaw Uprising, August 1944.

Unfortunately for Himmler, the investigation soon revealed the involvement of many SS officers in the conspiracy, including senior officers, which played into the hands of Bormann's power struggle against the SS because very few party cadre officers were implicated. Even more importantly, some senior SS officers began to conspire against Himmler himself, as they believed that he would be unable to achieve victory in the power struggle against Bormann. Among these defectors wereErnst Kaltenbrunner, Heydrich's successor as chief of the Reichssicherheitshauptamt, andGruppenführer Heinrich Müller, the chief of the Gestapo.


In late 1944, Himmler became Commander-in-Chief of the newly formed Army Group Upper Rhine(Heeresgruppe Oberrhein). This army group was formed to fight the advancing U.S. 7th Army andFrench 1st Army in the Alsace region along the west bank of the Rhine. The U.S. 7th Army was under the command of General Alexander Patch and the French 1st Army was under the command of General Jean de Lattre de Tassigny.

On 1 January 1945, Himmler's army group launched Operation North Wind (Unternehmen Nordwind) to push back the Americans and the French. In late January, after some limited initial success, Himmler was transferred east. By 24 January, Army Group Upper Rhine was deactivated after going over to the defensive. Operation North Wind officially ended on 25 January.

Elsewhere, the German Army (Wehrmacht Heer) had failed to halt the Red Army's Vistula-Oder offensive, so Hitler gave Himmler command of yet another newly formed army group, Army Group Vistula (Heeresgruppe Weichsel) to stop the Soviet advance on Berlin. Hitler placed Himmler in command of Army Group Vistula despite the failure of Army Group Upper Rhine and despite Himmler's total lack of experience and ability to command troops. This appointment may have been at the instigation of Martin Bormann, anxious to discredit a rival, or through Hitler's continuing anger at the "failures" of the general staff.

As Commander-in-Chief of Army Group Vistula, Himmler established his command centre at Schneidemühl. He used his special train (sonderzug), Sonderzug Steiermark, as his headquarters. Himmler did this despite the train having only one telephone line and no signals detachment. Eager to show his determination, Himmler acquiesced in a quick counter-attack urged by the general staff. The operation quickly bogged down and Himmler dismissed a regular army corps commander and appointed Nazi Heinz Lammerding. His headquarters was also forced to retreat to Falkenburg. On 30 January, Himmler issued draconian orders: Tod und Strafe für Pflichtvergessenheit —"death and punishment for those who forget their obligations", to encourage his troops. The worsening situation left Himmler under increasing pressure from Hitler; he was unassertive and nervous in conferences. In mid-February, the Pomeranian offensive by his forces was directed by GeneralWalther Wenck, after intense pressure from General Heinz Guderian on Hitler. By early March, Himmler's headquarters had moved west of the Oder River, although his army group was still named after the Vistula. At conferences with Hitler, Himmler echoed Hitler's line of increased severity towards those who retreated.

On 13 March, Himmler abandoned his command and, claiming illness, retired to a sanatorium at Hohenlychen. Guderian visited him there and carried his resignation as Commander-in-Chief of Army Group Vistula to Hitler that night. On 20 March, Himmler was replaced by GeneralGotthard Heinrici.

Peace negotiations Heinrich Himmler in 1945.

In the winter of 1944–45, Himmler′s Waffen-SS numbered 910,000 members, with the Allgemeine-SS(at least on paper) hosting a membership of nearly two million. However, by early 1945 Himmler had lost faith in German victory, likely due in part to his discussions with his masseur Felix Kersten and with Walter Schellenberg.[54] He realized that if the Nazi regime were to survive, it needed to seek peace with Britain and the U.S. He also believed by the middle of April 1945 that Hitler had effectively incapacitated himself from governing by remaining in Berlin to personally lead the defence of the capital against the Soviets.

To this end, he contacted Count Folke Bernadotte of Sweden at Lübeck, near the Danish border. He represented himself as the provisional leader of Germany, telling Bernadotte that Hitler would almost certainly be dead within two days. He asked Bernadotte to tell General Dwight Eisenhower that Germany wished to surrender to the West. Himmler hoped the British and Americans would fight the Soviets alongside the remains of the Wehrmacht. At Bernadotte's request, Himmler put his offer in writing. On April 21, 1945, Himmler met with Norbert Masur, a Swedish representative of the World Jewish Congress, in Berlin for a discussion concerning the release of Jewish concentration camp inmates. During the meeting, Himmler stated that he wanted to "bury the hatchet" with the Jews.[55]

On the evening of 28 April, the BBC broadcast a Reuters news report about Himmler's attempted negotiations with the western Allies. When Hitler was informed of the news, he flew into a rage.[56] A few days earlier, Hermann Göring had asked Hitler for permission to take over the leadership of the Reich — an act that Hitler, under the prodding of Bormann, interpreted as a demand to step down or face a coup. However, Himmler had not even bothered to request permission. The news also hit Hitler hard because he had long believed that Himmler was second only to Joseph Goebbels in loyalty; in fact, Hitler often called Himmler "der treue Heinrich" (the loyal Heinrich). Hitler ordered Himmler's arrest and had Hermann Fegelein (Himmler's SS representative at Hitler's HQ in Berlin) shot.[57] After Hitler calmed down, he told those who were still with him in the bunker complex that Himmler's act was the worst act of treachery he'd ever known.

Himmler's treachery—combined with reports the Soviets were only 300 m (330 yd) (about a block) from the Reich Chancellery—prompted Hitler to write his last will and testament. In the Testament, completed the day before he committed suicide, he declared Himmler and Göring to be traitors. He also stripped Himmler of all of his party and state offices: Reichsführer-SS, Chief of the German Police, Commissioner of German Nationhood, Reich Minister of the Interior, Supreme Commander of the Volkssturm, and Supreme Commander of the Home Army. Finally, he expelled Himmler from the Nazi Party and ordered his arrest.

Himmler's negotiations with Count Bernadotte failed. However, the negotiations helped secure the release of some 15,000 Scandinavian prisoners from the remaining concentration camps. Himmler joined Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz, who by then was commanding all German forces within the northern part of the western front, in nearby Plön. Dönitz sent Himmler away, explaining that there was no place for him in the new German government.

Himmler next turned to the Americans as a defector, contacting Eisenhower's headquarters and proclaiming he would surrender all of Germany to the Allies if he were spared from prosecution. He asked Eisenhower to appoint him "minister of police" in Germany's post-war government. He reportedly mused on how to handle his first meeting with the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF)commander and whether to give the Nazi salute or shake hands with him. Eisenhower refused to have anything to do with Himmler, who was subsequently declared a major war criminal.

  • 7 October 1900 – 23 May 1945

Capture and death

Himmler's corpse in Allied custody after his suicide by poison, 1945 Death mask of Himmler on display in theImperial War Museum in London

Unwanted by his former colleagues and hunted by the Allies, Himmler wandered for several days around Flensburg near the Danish border. Attempting to evade arrest, he disguised himself as a sergeant-major of the Secret Military Police, using the name Heinrich Hitzinger, shaving his moustache and donning an eye patch over his left eye, in the hope that he could return to Bavaria. He had equipped himself with a set of false documents, but someone whose papers were wholly in order was so unusual that it aroused the suspicions of a British Army unit in Bremen. Himmler was arrested on 22 May by Major Sidney Excell and, in captivity, was soon recognized. Himmler was scheduled to stand trial with other German leaders as a war criminal at Nuremberg, but on 23 May committed suicide in Lüneburg by means of a potassium cyanide capsule beforeinterrogation could begin. His last words were Ich bin Heinrich Himmler! ("I am Heinrich Himmler!"). Another version has Himmler biting into a hidden cyanide pill embedded in one of his teeth, when searched by a British doctor, who then yelled, "He has done it!" Several attempts to revive Himmler were unsuccessful. Shortly afterward, Himmler's body was buried in an unmarked grave on the Lüneburg Heath. The precise location of Himmler's grave remains unknown.

Forgeries, fabrications and conspiracy theories

In a 2005 book, Martin Allen claimed that Himmler had secretly negotiated with the UK as early as 1943, and that he may have been killed on Churchill's order to cover up this fact. The book was based on forgeries of documents at the National Archives. In May 2008 a British police investigation identified 29 forgeries that had been slipped into 12 files to support claims in Allen's three World War II books.


As late as 2011, Gudrun Burwitz, Himmler's daughter, leads the Stille Hilfe (which translates as "Silent Help"). Formed in 1951 by those who had held high positions within the then defunct Nazi Party, the group provides "quiet but active assistance to those who lost their freedom during or after the war by capture, internment or similar circumstance and who need help to this day."

Historical views

Historians are divided on the psychology, motives, and influences that drove Himmler. Some see him as dominated by Hitler, fully under his influence and essentially a tool carrying Hitler's views to their logical conclusion. Others see Himmler as extremely anti-Semitic in his own right, and even more eager than his boss to commit genocide. Still others see Himmler as power-mad, devoted to the accumulation of power and influence.

According to Robert S. Wistrich, Himmler's decisive innovation was to transform the race question from "a negative concept based on matter-of-course anti-Semitism" into "an organizational task for building up the SS ... It was Himmler's master stroke that he succeeded in indoctrinating the SS with an apocalyptic ‘idealism’ beyond all guilt and responsibility, which rationalized mass murder as a form ofmartyrdom and harshness towards oneself."

The wartime cartoonist Victor Weisz depicted Himmler as a giant octopus, wielding oppressed nations in each of his eight arms.

Wolfgang Sauer—historian at University of California, Berkeley—felt that "although he was pedantic, dogmatic, and dull, Himmler emerged under Hitler as second in actual power. His strength lay in a combination of unusual shrewdness, burning ambition, and servile loyalty to Hitler."

Felix Kersten, Himmler's personal masseur, claimed that Himmler had told him that he always carried with him a copy of the Bhagavad Gita, because it relieved him of guilt about implementing the Final Solution. Himmler felt that, like the warrior Arjuna, he was simply doing his duty without attachment to his actions. Himmler's ideas were probably influenced by Jakob Wilhelm Hauer's concepts of duty derived from his interpretation of the Gita.

In an extract of Norman Brook's War Cabinet DiariesWinston Churchill took a view towards Himmler widely shared during the war, advocating his assassination. According to Brook, responding to a suggestion that Nazi leaders be executed, "this prompted Churchill to ask if they should negotiate with Himmler ‘and bump him off later’, once peace terms had been agreed. The suggestion to cut a deal for a German surrender with Himmler and then assassinate him met with support from the Home Office. ‘Quite entitled to do so’, the minutes record [... Churchill] as commenting."

A main focus of recent work on Himmler has been the extent to which he competed for and craved Hitler's attention and respect. The events of the last days of the war, when he abandoned Hitler and attempted to enter into separate negotiations with the western Allies (an attempt which was rebuffed), are obviously significant in this respect.

Himmler appears to have had a distorted view of how he was perceived by the Allies; he intended to meet with U.S. and British leaders and have discussions "as gentlemen". He tried to buy off their vengeance by last-minute reprieves for Jews and important prisoners. According to British soldiers who arrested him, Himmler was genuinely shocked to be treated as a prisoner.

In 2008, Himmler was named "the greatest mass murderer of all time" by German news magazine Der Spiegel, reflecting his role as architect of the Holocaust.

Summary of SS service Main article: Service record of Heinrich Himmler

Heinrich Himmler served in the SS for a total of twenty years, sixteen of which as Reichsführer-SS. In contrast to other contemporary Nazis, such as Reinhard Heydrich, Himmler was presented few decorations and never was awarded a combat medal.

Richard Glücks

Richard Glücks 

(April 22, 1889, OdenkirchenRhine Province – May 10, 1945)

was a high-ranking Nazi official. He attained the rank of a SS-Gruppenführer and aGeneralleutnant of the Waffen-SS and from 1939 until the end of World War II was the head of Amt D: Konzentrationslagerwesen of the WVHA; the highest-rankingConcentration Camps Inspector in Nazi Germany. Close to Reichsführer-SSHimmler, he was directly responsible for the forced labour of the camp inmates, and was also the supervisor for the medical practices in the camps, ranging from human experimentation to the implementation of the "Final Solution", in particular the mass murder of inmates with Zyklon-B gas. When the Nazi regime fell and Germany capitulated, Glücks committed suicide by swallowing a potassium cyanide capsule.

Born April 22, 1889
OdenkirchenGerman Empire Died May 10, 1945 (aged 56)
FlensburgGermany Allegiance  Nazi Germany Service/branch  Schutzstaffel Rank GruppenführerSS (Lieutenant General) Unit  SS-Totenkopfverbände Battles/wars World War I
World War II Other work One of the primary organizers of The Holocaust, he organized slave labor, medical atrocities, and mass murder.

  • April 22, 1889~ May 10, 1945

Friedrich-Wilhelm Krüger

Friedrich-Wilhelm Krüger 

(27 February 1894 – 9 May 1945)

was a Nazi official and high-ranking member of the SA and SS. Between 1939 and 1943 he was SS and Police Leader in the General Government in German-occupied Poland and in that capacity he organized and supervised numerous acts of war crimes.

Career after Nazi seizure of power

In June 1933, Krüger was promoted again to SA-Obergruppenführer and appointed chief of the Ausbildungswesen ("training", AW). Cooperating closely with the Reichswehr, he used his new position to school the SA's best recruits (an estimated 250,000) to become officers. Krüger was not caught in the Night of the Long Knives, in which Röhm and many other high-ranking SA members were killed, and it has been speculated that his switch from the SS to the SA was only carried out due to pragmatic reasons, especially in the light of Krüger transferring the SA armouries of which he was in charge to the Reichswehr as soon as the purge began. Nevertheless, Krüger was left without a job temporarily, until he entered the SS again, still keeping his SA rank as well.

In 1935, Krüger was appointed SS-Oberabschnittsführer; his career was discussed by the SS leadership and Adolf Hitler, and on 21 February 1936, he was appointed inspector of border guard units as well as Hitler's personal representative at a variety of formal and informal NSDAP events. Krüger enjoyed continued promotions as a result of his loyalty to Nazism as well as his military, police and administration skills.

Forced labor, murder and other war crimes in Poland

On 4 October 1939, because of his ambition and his loyalty to the party, Heinrich Himmler, appointed him to as Higher SS and Police Leader (HSSPF East) (Höherer SS- und Polizeiführer) in the part of German-occupied Poland called the General Government. Krüger thus became one of the most powerful men in occupied Poland. Among other things he was responsible for crushing rebellion in the extermination camps, setting up forced labour camps, the employment of police and SS in the evacuations of the ghettos, in Warsaw ghettos, the execution Aktion Erntefest, the so-called "anti-partisan" fight in the General Government, and the driving out of over 100.000 Polish farmers from the area around Zamo??. Authority quarrels with governor general Hans Frank led on 9 November 1943 to his dismissal. He was replaced by Wilhelm Koppe. The Polish Secret State ordered his death, but an assassination attempt on 20 April 1943 in Kraków failed when two bombs hurled at his car missed the target. Half a year later, he wrote in a letter "I have lost honour and reputation due to my four year struggle in the GG (General Government) (Ich habe für meinen vierjährigen Kampf im GG Ehre und Reputation verloren.)",

Later career and suicide

From November 1943 until April 1944 Krüger served with the 7th SS mountain infantry "Prince Eugen" division in Nazi-occupied Yugoslavia. While ostensibly engaged in anti-partisan actions in Yugoslavia, this unit became notorious for committing terrible atrocities against the civilian population.

Later from June to August Krüger took over the command over the 6th SS Mountain Division Nord in northern Finland. From August 1944 until February 1945 Krüger was commanding general of the Fifth SS Mountain Infantry Corps. In February 1945 he was Himmler's representative at the German southeast front, in April and May 1945 he was commander of a combat team of the Order Police (Ordnungspolizei) at Army Group South (known as Army Group Ostmark after 1 May 1945). At the end of the war Krüger committed suicide in upper Austria

  • 27 February 1894 – 9 May 1945

Wilhelm Koppe

Wilhelm Koppe 

(15 June 1896 – 2 July 1975)

was a German Nazi commander (Höhere SS und Polizeiführer, HSSPSS-Obergruppenführer) who was responsible for numerous atrocities against Poles and Jews in Reichsgau Wartheland and the General Government during the German occupation of Poland in World War II.

Biography SS-Obergruppenführer Wilhelm Koppe salutes SS and German police troops.

Born in Hildesheim, he fought in the First World War. During the interwar period, he pursued a career in trade and wholesale. He joined the Nazi Party in 1930, the Sturmabteilung (SA) in 1931, and theSchutzstaffel (SS) in 1932. Prior to World War II, he was a regional SS and SD commander inMünster, the Free City of DanzigDresden and Leipzig. The German invasion of Poland took place in September 1939, and in October he became the Höhere SS und Polizeiführer in Reichsgau Wartheland, under the command of Arthur Greiser, Gauleiter. However, because of the confusing power struggle inside the Nazi organisation where Hitler divided and ruled via his changing favourites, he had the same power and responsibilities as Greiser. He had a very good relationship with Reichsführer SS Heinrich Himmler.

The newly appointed police commander was an active participant in the implementation of Nazi racial ideals, and in November 1939 he declared that he would make Pozna? (Posen) 'free from Jews' (judenrein), after which he ordered numerous executions and deportations of Poles and Polish Jews. He also participated in the Nazi's euthanasia program as the overall commander of 'Special Detachment (Sonderkommando) Lange', an SS squad which gassed 1558 patients from mental asylums at the Soldau concentration camp in the nearby Gau of East Prussia during May and June 1940. On 30 January 1942 he was promoted to SS-Obergruppenführer, and in October 1943 he replaced Friedrich Wilhelm Krüger as Höhere SS und Polizeiführer in the General Government with headquarters in Kraków. He also held the position of state secretary on the issues of security (Staatssekretär für das Sicherheitswesen) in the General Government, and was involved in the operations of Chelmno extermination camp and Warsaw concentration camp as well as operations against the Polish resistance. He organized the execution of more than 30,000 Polish patients suffering from tuberculosis, and ordered that all male relatives of identified resistance fighters should be executed, and the rest of their family sent to concentration camps.

The Polish Secret State ordered his death, but an assassination attempt failed. He was wounded byKedyw unit - Batalion Parasol in "Operation Koppe" (Akcja Koppe) part of "Operation Heads" on 11 July 1944 in Kraków.

With the Eastern Front approaching Poland, Koppe ordered all prisoners to be executed rather than freed by the Soviets.

In 1945 Koppe went underground and assumed an alias (Lohmann, his wife's surname) and became a director of a chocolate factory in Bonn, Germany. In 1960 he was arrested but released on bail on 19 April 1962. His trial opened in 1964 in Bonn. He was accused of beingaccessory to the mass murder of 145,000 people. The trial was adjourned due to Koppe's ill health and in 1966 the Bonn court decided not to prosecute and Koppe was released for medical reasons. The German government refused a Polish request for extradition. Koppe died in 1975 in Bonn.

  • 15 June 1896 – 2 July 1975

Julian Scherner

Julian Scherner 

(September 23, 1895-April 28, 1945)

was a Nazi Party official who served in the SS as an SS-Oberführer (Senior Colonel). Scherner is most notorious for his career as SS and Police Leader of KrakówPoland.

Life and Death

Born in colonial BagamoyoGerman East Africa, Scherner attended aKadettenschule or military cadet school in Imperial Germany from 1905 to 1914. In 1914 he joined the Reichsheer or Imperial army. After retiring from the military in 1920 he joined the Freikorps Oberland and in 1923 he took part in the Hitler-Ludendorff Putsch. In 1932 he joined the SS and the Nazi Party. In 1937 he became head of the Dachau SS-Führerschule or SS officers school. From September 1939 to 11 November 1939 he was regimental commander of the SS-Gebirgsjäger-Regiment 11 "Reinhard Heydrich". From summer to the winter of 1940 he was commander of the 8 Totenkopf-Standarte. As an SS garrison commander of Prague Scherner was busy between January to September 1941 in the preparations for the establishment of the SS-Truppenübungsplatz Böhmen at BeneschauBohemia.

On 4 August 1941 Scherner was appointed SS- und Polizeiführer (SS and Police Leader) in Nazi occupied Kraków. As such he was responsible for the deportations to the Be??ec extermination camp, the mass shootings in Tarnau and all 'evacuations' that took place during his time there - including Aktion Krakau. He dissolved the ghetto in his own district (Kraków Ghetto) by deportating the population toAuschwitz.

His position afforded him a great deal of authority in many areas, as the title of SS and Police Leader was conferred to high-ranking Nazi Party members, reporting directly to Himmler's deputy. Like Amon Göth, however, Scherner was far too interested in the confiscated goods from the Plaszow camp.[1] Scherner was transferred to Dachau in April 1944 and appeared before an SS Court (the dreaded Hauptamt SS-Gericht) on the 16th October 1944. As a result Scherner was demoted from SS-Oberführer der Reserve in the Waffen-SS to SSHauptsturmführer der Reserve and transferred to the Dirlewanger Brigade (formally the 36th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS) under SS-Oberführer Dr. Oskar Dirlewanger.

Scherner's rank in the Allgemeine SS was not changed, however.

His death was as murky and obscure as his career. He was found dead shortly before the war ended in a wooded area near Niepo?omice in southern Poland.

  • September 23, 1895-April 28, 1945

Rudolf Franz Ferdinand Höss

Rudolf Franz Ferdinand Höss (also spelled Höß, sometimes spelled in English as Hoess;

25 November 1900 – 16 April 1947

was an SS-Obersturmbannführer (Lieutenant Colonel), and from 4 May 1940 to November 1943, the first commandant of Auschwitz concentration camp, where it is estimated that more than a million people were murdered. Höss joined the Nazi Party in 1922, the SS in 1934. He was hanged in 1947 following his trial at Warsaw.

Joining the SS

He applied for SS membership on 20 September 1933, and his application as a member of the SS was accepted on 1 April 1934. "In June 1934 came Himmler's call to join the ranks of the active SS-Mann." (Höss had first met Himmler in 1929.) That same year, Höss moved up to the SS-Totenkopfverbände (Death's Head Units) and in December he was assigned to the Dachau concentration camp, where he held the post of Blockführer. Höss excelled in his duties and was recommended by his superiors for further responsibility and promotion. By the end of his four years at Dachau, he was serving as administrator of the property of prisoners.

By his own admission in his autobiography, Höss disliked the corporal punishment carried out by the guards of the camps on the prisoners (he avoided them as much as he could), but when he saw his first execution it did not affect him as much; he could not explain why that was.

In 1938 he received a promotion to SS-Hauptsturmführer (a paramilitary rank equivalent to captain) and was made adjutant to Hermann Baranowski in the Sachsenhausen camp. He joined the Waffen-SS in 1939.

Auschwitz command

On 1 May 1940, Höss was appointed commandant of a prison camp in western Poland, a territory Germany had annexed outright and incorporated into the province of Upper Silesia. The camp was built around an old Austro-Hungarian (and later Polish) army barracks near the town of O?wi?cim; its German name was Auschwitz. Höss would command the camp for three and a half years, during which he expanded the original facility into a sprawling complex, the place now known as the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. Höss lived at Auschwitz together with his wife and children.

The earliest inmates at Auschwitz were Polish prisoners, including peasants and intellectuals, as well as Soviet prisoners-of-war. At its peak size, Auschwitz was actually three separate facilities (Auschwitz I, Auschwitz II/Birkenau, and Auschwitz III/Monowitz) and was constructed on 8,100 ha (20,000 acres) that had been cleared of all inhabitants. Auschwitz I was the administrative center for the complex; Birkenau was the extermination camp, where most of the killing took place.

In June 1941, according to Höss's later trial testimony, he was summoned to Berlin for a meeting with Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler "to receive personal orders". Himmler told Höss that Hitler had given the order for the physical extermination of Europe's Jews. Himmler had selected Auschwitz for this purpose, he said, "on account of its easy access by rail and also because the extensive site offered space for measures ensuring isolation". Himmler told Höss that he would be receiving all operational orders from Adolf Eichmann. Himmler described the project as a "secret Reich matter", meaning that "no one was allowed to speak about these matters with any person and that everyone promised upon his life to keep the utmost secrecy". Höss said he kept that secret until the end of 1942, when he told one person about the camp's purpose: his wife.

After visiting Treblinka extermination camp (which didn't become operational until July 1942) to study its methods of human extermination,  Höss, beginning on the 3 September 1941, tested and perfected the techniques of mass killing that made Auschwitz the most efficiently murderous instrument of the Final Solution and the most potent symbol of the Holocaust. According to Höss, during standard camp operations, two to three trains carrying 2,000 prisoners each would arrive daily for periods of four to six weeks. The prisoners were unloaded in the Birkenau camp; those fit for labor were marched to barracks in either Birkenau or one of the Auschwitz camps, while those unsuitable for work were driven into the gas chambers. At first, small gassing bunkers were located deep in the woods, to avoid detection. Later, four large gas chambers and crematoria were constructed in Birkenau to make the killing more efficient and to handle the increasing rate of exterminations.

Höss improved on the methods at Treblinka by building his gas chambers 10 times larger, so that they could kill 2,000 people at once rather than 200. He commented,

“ Still another improvement we made over Treblinka was that at Treblinka the victims almost always knew that they were to be exterminated and at Auschwitz we endeavored to fool the victims into thinking that they were to go through a delousingprocess. Of course, frequently they realized our true intentions and we sometimes had riots and difficulties due to that fact. Very frequently women would hide their children under the clothes but of course when we found them we would send the children in to be exterminated. ”

Höss experimented with various methods of gassing. According to Eichmann's trial testimony in 1961, Höss told him that he used cotton filters soaked in sulfuric acid in early killings. Höss later introduced hydrogen cyanide, produced from the pesticide Zyklon B, into the killing process, after his deputy Karl Fritzsch tested it on a group of Russian prisoners in 1941. With Zyklon B, he said that it took 3–15 minutes for the victims to die and that "we knew when the people were dead because they stopped screaming".

Höss explained how 10,000 people were exterminated in one 24-hour period:

“ Technically [it] wasn't so hard—it would not have been hard to exterminate even greater numbers.... The killing itself took the least time. You could dispose of 2,000 head in half an hour, but it was the burning that took all the time. The killing was easy; you didn't even need guards to drive them into the chambers; they just went in expecting to take showers and, instead of water, we turned on poison gas. The whole thing went very quickly. ”

Höss later testified that Himmler himself visited the camp in 1942 and "watched in detail one processing from beginning to end". Eichmann, Höss said, visited the camp and observed its operations frequently.

In his affidavit prepared for the Nuremberg trials in 1946, Höss asserted that local residents were well aware of the camp's purpose:

“ We were required to carry out these exterminations in secrecy but of course the foul and nauseating stench from the continuous burning of bodies permeated the entire area and all of the people living in the surrounding communities knew that exterminations were going on at Auschwitz. ” File:Mengele Hoess Kramer Thumann.jpg From left: Josef Mengele, Rudolf Höss, Josef Kramer and Anton Thumann After Auschwitz

After being replaced as the Auschwitz commander by Arthur Liebehenschel, on 10 November 1943 Höss assumed Liebehenschel's former position as the chairman of Amt D I in Amtsgruppe D of the SS-Wirtschafts-Verwaltungshauptamt (WVHA); he also was appointed deputy of the inspector of the concentrations camps Richard Glücks.

On 8 May 1944, however, Höss returned to Auschwitz to supervise the operation, known as Aktion Höss, by which 430,000 Hungarian Jews were transported to the camp and killed during 56 days  between May and July of that year. Even Höss' expanded facility couldn't handle the huge number of victims' corpses, and the camp staff had to dispose of thousands of bodies by burning them in open pits.

Capture, trial and execution Rudolf Höss at the Supreme National Tribunal of Poland Höss immediately before being hanged A replica of the gallows on which Höss was hanged The location where Höss was hanged, with plaque

In the last days of the war, Höss was advised by Himmler to disguise himself among German Navypersonnel. He evaded arrest for nearly a year. When he was captured by British troops—some of whom were Jews born in Germany—on 11 March 1946, he was disguised as a farmer and called himself Franz Lang. His wife told the British where he could be found, fearing that her son, Klaus, would be shipped off to the Soviet Union, where he surely would, at minimum, be sent to the gulagand be tortured. After being questioned and allegedly beaten severely by his captors Höss confessed his real identity.

During the Nuremberg Trials, he appeared as a witness in the trials of Ernst KaltenbrunnerOswald Pohl, and the IG Farben corporation. There he gave detailed testimony of his crimes:

“ I commanded Auschwitz until 1 December 1943, and estimate that at least 2,500,000 victims were executed and exterminated there by gassing and burning, and at least another half million succumbed to starvation and disease, making a total dead of about 3,000,000. This figure represents about 70% or 80% of all persons sent to Auschwitz as prisoners, the remainder having been selected and used for slave labor in the concentration camp industries. Included among the executed and burnt were approximately 20,000 Russian prisoners of war (previously screened out of Prisoner of War cages by the Gestapo) who were delivered at Auschwitz in Wehrmacht transports operated by regular Wehrmachtofficers and men. The remainder of the total number of victims included about 100,000 German Jews, and great numbers of citizens (mostly Jewish) from Holland, France, Belgium, Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Greece, or other countries. We executed about 400,000 Hungarian Jews alone at Auschwitz in the summer of 1944. ”

On 25 May 1946, he was handed over to Polish authorities and the Supreme National Tribunal in Poland tried him for murder.

During his trial, when accused of murdering three and a half million people, Höss replied, "No. Only two and one half million — the rest died from disease and starvation."

Höss was sentenced to death on 2 April 1947. The sentence was carried out on 16 April immediately adjacent to the crematorium of the former Auschwitz I concentration camp. He washanged on gallows constructed specifically for that purpose, at the former location of the campGestapo. The message on the board reads:

“ This is where the camp Gestapo was located. Prisoners suspected of involvement in the camp's underground resistance movement or of preparing to escape were interrogated here. Many prisoners died as a result of being beaten or tortured. The first commandant of Auschwitz, SS-Obersturmbannführer Rudolf Höss, who was tried and sentenced to death after the war by the Polish Supreme National Tribunal, was hanged here on 16 April 1947. ”

Höss wrote his autobiography while awaiting execution; it was published in 1958 as Kommandant in Auschwitz; autobiographische Aufzeichnungen and later as Death Dealer: the Memoirs of the SS Kommandant at Auschwitz (among other editions).

After discussions with Höss during the Nuremberg trials at which Höss testified, the American military psychologist Gustave Gilbert wrote the following:

“ In all of the discussions, Höss is quite matter-of-fact and apathetic, shows some belated interest in the enormity of his crime, but gives the impression that it never would have occurred to him if somebody hadn't asked him. There is too much apathy to leave any suggestion of remorse and even the prospect of hanging does not unduly stress him. One gets the general impression of a man who is intellectually normal, but with the schizoid apathy, insensitivity and lack ofempathy that could hardly be more extreme in a frank psychotic. ”

Four days before he was executed, Höss sent a message to the state prosecutor, including these comments:

“ My conscience compels me to make the following declaration. In the solitude of my prison cell I have come to the bitter recognition that I have sinned gravely against humanity. As Commandant of Auschwitz I was responsible for carrying out part of the cruel plans of the 'Third Reich' for human destruction. In so doing I have inflicted terrible wounds on humanity. I caused unspeakable suffering for the Polish people in particular. I am to pay for this with my life. May the Lord God forgive one day what I have done


note: At Auschwitz, Commandant Höss was facing the difficult problem of disposing of thousands of bodies. At first, they were buried in a large field, but the graves could not be dug deep enough and the bodies putrefied in the summer heat. Jewish prisoners, such as Otto Pressburger, were ordered to exhume them:

“We had to dig the bodies out and burn them. A big fire was made here with wood and petrol and we were throwing them right into it. There were always two of us throwing the bodies in, one holding the legs and one on the arms. The smell and the stench was terrible. The bodies were not only bloody but rotten as well. We were given some rags to put over our faces.

“The SS men were constantly drinking vodka or cognac or something else from their bottles. They couldn’t cope with it either. It was terrible.

Otto Pressburger, Auschwitz survivor.......

To deal with Auschwitz’s body disposal problem, Rudolf Höss journeyed in September 1942 to a remote area of Poland near the small village of Chelmno. He wanted to talk with SS Colonel Paul Blobel, an expert in remains disposal, who had been experimenting with a new type of field cremation unit.

New field cremation units helped the Nazis get rid of large numbers of bodies (graphic reconstruction).

The units were large fire pits with grates at the bottom on which to stack alternate layers of bodies and wood. Gasoline was used to start the fires. On the whole, the new installations worked very well, allowing the Nazis to dispose of large quantities of bodies.

Meanwhile, architects at Auschwitz were changing the plans of basement mortuaries that were part of new crematoria to be built at Auschwitz-Birkenau. The changes included the removal of a chute designed to slide bodies into the basement. Instead steps were added so that living people could descend into the morgue. Next, the doors into the large basement mortuaries were reformed as single, gas-tight, reinforced doors with a peep-hole.

When these buildings opened in spring 1943, the basement mortuaries had become gas chambers.

  • 25 November 1900 – 16 April 1947

Rudolf Hoess, Commandant of Auschwitz: Testimony at Nuremburg, 1946

Rudolf Hoess born in 1900, , joined the SS in 1933, and eventually commanded the massive extermination center of Auschwitz, whose name has come to symbolize humanity's ultimate descent into evil. This is his signed testimony at the Post-War trials of Major War Criminals held at Nuremburg. 

1, RUDOLF FRANZ FERDINAND HOESS, being first duly sworn, depose and say as follows:

1. I am forty ­six years old, and have been a member of the NSDAPI since 1922; a member of the SS since 1934; a member of the Waffen­SS since 1939. I was a member from 1 December 1934 of the SS Guard Unit, the so­called Deathshead Formation (Totenkopf Verband).

2. I have been constantly associated with the administration of concentration camps since 1934, serving at Dachau until 1938; then as Adjutant in Sachsenhausen from 1938 to 1 May, 1940, when I was appointed Commandant of Auschwitz. l commanded Auschwitz until 1 December,1943, and estimate that at least 2,500,000 victims were executed and exterminated there by gassing and burning, and at least another half million succumbed to starvation and disease, making a total dead of about 3,000,000. This figure represents about 70% or 80% of all persons sent to Auschwitz as prisoners, the remainder having been selected and used for slave labor in the concentration camp industries. Included among the executed and burnt were approximately 20,000 Russian prisoners of war (previously screened out of Prisoner of War cages by the Gestapo) who were delivered at Auschwitz in Wehrmacht transports operated by regular Wehrmacht officers and men. The remainder of the total number of victims included about 100,000 German Jews, and great numbers of citizens (mostly Jewish) from Holland, France, Belgium, Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Greece, or other countries. We executed about 400,000 Hungarian Jews alone at Auschwitz in the summer of 1944.

4. Mass executions by gassing commenced during the summer 1941 and continued until fall 1944.1 personally supervised executions at Auschwitz until the first of December 1943 and know by reason of my continued duties in the Inspectorate of Concentration Camps WVHA2 that these mass executions continued as stated above. All mass executions by gassing took place under the direct order, supervision and responsibility of RSHA.31 received all orders for carrying out these mass executions directly from RSHA.

6. The "final solution" of the Jewish question meant the complete extermination of all Jews in Europe. l was ordered to establish extermination facilities at Auschwitz in June 1941. At that time there were already in the general govemment three other extermination camps; BELZEK, TREBLINKA and WOLZEK. These camps were under the Einsatzkommando of the Security Police and SD. I visited Treblinka to find out how they carried out their exterminations. The Camp Commandant at Treblinka told me that he had liquidated 80,000 in the course of one­half year. He was principally concerned with liquidating all the Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto. He used monoxide gas and I did not think that his methods were very efficient. So when I set up the extermination building at Auschwitz, l used Cyclon B, which was a crystallized Prussic Acid which we dropped into the death chamber from a small opening. It took from 3 to 15 minutes to kill the people in the death chamber depending upon climatic conditions. We knew when the people were dead because their screaming stopped. We usually waited about one­half hour before we opened the doors and removed the bodies. After the bodies were removed our special commandos took off the rings and extracted the gold from the teeth of the corpses.

7. Another improvement we made over Treblinka was that we built our gas chambers to accommodate 2,000 people at one time, whereas at Treblinka their 10 gas chambers only accommodated 200 people each. The way we selected our victims was as follows: we had two SS doctors on duty at Auschwitz to examine the incoming transports of prisoners. The prisoners would be marched by one of the doctors who would make spot decisions as they walked by. Those who were fit for work were sent into the Camp. Others were sent immediately to the extermination plants. Children of tender years were invariably exterminated since by reason of their youth they were unable to work. Still another improvement we made over Treblinka was that at Treblinka the victims almost always knew that they were to be exterminated and at Auschwitz we endeavored to fool the victims into thinking that they were to go through a delousing process. Of course, frequently they realized our true intentions and we sometimes had riots and difficulties due to that fact. Very frequently women would hide their children under the clothes but of course when we found them we would send the children in to be exterminated. We were required to carry out these exterminations in secrecy but of course the foul and nauseating stench from the continuous burning of bodies permeated the entire area and all of the people living in the surrounding communities knew that exterminations were going on at Auschwitz .

8. We received from time to time special prisoners from the local Gestapo office. The SS doctors killed such prisoners by injections of benzine. Doctors had orders to write ordinary death certificates and could put down any reason at all for the cause of death.

9. From time to time we conducted medical experiments on women inmates, including sterilization and experiments relating to cancer. Most of the people who died under these experiments had been already condemned to death by the Gestapo.

10. Rudolf Mildner was the chief of the Gestapo at Kattowicz and as such was head of the political department at Auschwitz which conducted third degree methods of interrogation from approximately March 1941 until September 1943. As such, he frequently sent prisoners to Auschwitz for incarceration or execution. He visited Auschwitz on several occasions. The Gestapo Court, the SS Standgericht, which tried persons accused of various crimes, such as escaping Prisoners of War, etc., frequently met within Auschwitz, and Mildner often attended the trial of such persons, who usually were executed in Auschwitz following their sentence. l showed Mildner throughout the extermination plant at Auschwitz and he was directly interested in it since he had to send the Jews from his territory for execution at Auschwitz.

I understand English as it is written above. The above statements are true; this declaration is made by me voluntarily and without compulsion; after reading over the statement, I have signed and executed the same at Nurnberg, Germany on the fifth day of April 1946.

Rudolf Franz Ferdinand Hoess, "Affidavit, 5 April 1946," in Trial of the Major War Criminals Before the International Tribunal, Nuremberg, 14 November1945­1 October 1946 (Nuremberg: Secretariat of the International Military Tribunal, 1949), Doc. 3868­PS, vol. 33, 275­79.

This text is part of the Internet Modern History Sourcebook. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts for introductory level classes in modern European and World history.

Unless otherwise indicated the specific electronic form of the document is copyright. Permission is granted for electronic copying, distribution in print form for educational purposes and personal use. If you do reduplicate the document, indicate the source. No permission is granted for commercial use of the Sourcebook.

(c)Paul Halsall Aug 1997 

Oswald Pohl

Oswald Pohl 

(30 June 1892 - 8 June 1951)

was a Nazi official and member of the SS (with a rank of SS-Obergruppenführer), involved in the mass murders of Jews in concentration camps, the so-called Final Solution.

SS career

One year later, in 1925, Pohl became a member of the SA, then finally joined the re-foundedNazi party on 22 February 1926 as member #30842. He met Heinrich Himmler in 1933 and became his protégé; he was appointed chief of the administration department in the staff of the Reichsführer-SS ("Reich leader SS", RFSS) and given the rank of SS-Standartenführer on 1 February 1934 and began to influence the administration of the concentration camps.

His career continued when he was made Verwaltungschef (chief of administration) and Reichskassenverwalter ("Reich treasurer") for the SSon 1 June 1935, then initiated the Inspektion der Konzentrationslager ("Concentration Camps Inspectorate"), an organization to organize and oversee the administration of the concentration camps. He also founded the "Gesellschaft zur Förderung und Pflege deutscher Kulturdenkmäler" ("Society for the preservation and fostering of German cultural monuments"), which was primarily dedicated to restoring theWewelsburg, an old castle that was supposed to be turned into a cultural and scientific headquarters of the SS at Himmler's request. The "society" soon became a part of Pohl's SS administration office. Pohl also left the Roman Catholic Church in 1935.

Concentration camp administrator Oswald Pohl as a Nazi official.

In June 1939 Pohl became chief of both the "Hauptamt Verwaltung und Wirtschaft" ("main bureau [for] administration and economy", part of the SS) and the "Hauptamt Haushalt und Bauten" ("main bureau [for] budget and construction", part of the Reich's ministry for the interior). On 1 February 1942, both institutions were combined into the SS-Wirtschafts-Verwaltungshauptamt (SS-WVHA, "SS main bureau for economic administration") with Pohl in charge; among other things, the SS-WVHA was in charge of the organization of theconcentration camps, deciding on the distribution of detainees to the various camps and the "rental" of detainees for slave labour until 1944.

Pohl was made SS-Obergruppenführer and general of the Waffen-SS on 20 April 1942; on 12 December the same year, after divorcing his wife, he married Eleonore von Brüning, widow of Ernst Rüdiger von Brüning, who in turn was the son of one of the founders of the Hoechster Farbwerke which became part of the IG Farben in 1925.

In 1944, Pohl was put out of charge of the concentration camps, with the Rüstungsministerium (ministry of armament) overtaking; at the same time, the responsibility for construction was also taken away from the SS-WVHA. However, Pohl remained in charge of the administration of the Waffen-SS for the remainder of the war.

Postwar Oswald Pohl receives his sentence of death by hanging.

After the end of World War II in 1945, Pohl first hid in Upper Bavaria, then near Bremen; nevertheless, he was captured by British troops on 27 May 1946 and sentenced to death on 3 November 1947 by an American military tribunal after the Nuremberg trials for crimes against humanitywar crimes and membership in a criminal organization as well as for mass murders and crimes committed in the concentration camps administered by the SS-WVHA he was in charge. However, Pohl was not executed right away.

Officially, Pohl never left the Catholic Church, but stopped visiting churches from 1935 on. When it 'suited him best' during the Nuremberg trials, the ex-SS man started to see a Roman Catholic priest again, as he ascertained the American prison psychiatrist Dr. Goldensohn in 1946. In 1950, Pohl's book Credo. Mein Weg zu Gott ("Credo. My way to God") was published with permission from the Catholic Church, which Pohl had rejoined. He was executed shortly after midnight on 8 June 1951 in Landsberg am Lech, where he was hangedafter a long series of appeals. Pohl insisted on his innocence until his death, stating that he was only a "simple functionary"

  • 30 June 1892 - 8 June 1951

Arthur Liebehenschel

Arthur Liebehenschel 

(25 November 1901 - 28 January 1948)

was a commandant at the Auschwitz and Majdanek death camps during World War II. He was convicted of war crimes after the war and executed.

Liebehenschel was born in Posen (now Pozna?). He studied economics and public administration. Too young to serve in World War I, in 1919 he was in the Freikorps"Grenzschutz Ost"; he served as a sergeant major in the German Reichswehrafterwards. In 1932, he joined the Nazi Party (member number 39 254), and in 1934 was commissioned in the SS, where he served in the Totenkopfverbände. Liebehenschel became the adjutant in the Lichtenburg concentration camp, and two years later was transferred to the inspectorate of the concentration camps in Berlin. In 1942, when the SS- Wirtschaftsverwaltungshauptamt (WVHA - Office of economic policy) was founded, Liebehenschel was assigned to the new Amtsgruppe D (Concentration Camps) as head of Office D I (Central Office).

On December 1, 1943, Liebehenschel was appointed commandant of Auschwitzextermination camp, succeeding Rudolf Höß. When Höß returned to Auschwitz, Liebehenschel was replaced as commandant on May 8, 1944, and appointed commandant of the Majdanek extermination camp on 19 May 1944, succeedingMartin Gottfried Weiss. The camp was evacuated because of the Soviet advance onNazi Germany, and Liebehenschel was ordered to Trieste, Italy to the office of Odilo Globocnik, Höhere SS- und Polizeiführer (HSSPF) for Operational Zone Adriatic Coast (OZAK). Liebehenschel became head the SS Manpower Office there.

At the war's end, Liebehenschel was arrested by the American Army and wasextradited to Poland. After being convicted in the Auschwitz Trial in Kraków, he was sentenced to death and subsequently executed by hanging on January 28, 1948.

  • 25 November 1901 - 28 January 1948

Richard Baer

Richard Baer 

(September 9, 1911, Floß – June 17, 1963)

was a German Nazi official with the rank of SS-Sturmbannführer (major) and commander of the Auschwitz I concentration camp from May 1944 to February 1945. He was a member of N.S.D.A.P. (no. 454991) and the SS (no. 44225).


The first page of the Höcker Album features a dual portrait of Karl Höcker (at right) and his boss, Auschwitz commandant Richard Baer.

Baer was born in Bavaria in 1911; originally a trained confectioner, he became a guard in Dachau concentration camp after becoming unemployed in 1930. In 1939, he joined the SS-Totenkopfverbände, and was appointed adjutant of Neuengamme concentration camp in 1942 following spells in OranienburgColumbia-Haus and Sachsenhausen. At Neuengamme he participated in the killing of Soviet prisoners of war in a special gas chamber and in the selection of prisoners for the so-called Operation 14f13 in the T-4 Euthanasia Program.

From November 1942 until May 1944, Baer was adjutant of "SS-ObergruppenführerOswald Pohl, then chief of the Wirtschaftsverwaltungshauptamt (SS office of economic policy). In November 1943, he took over the department D I, the "inspectorate for concentration camps". He succeeded Arthur Liebehenschel, considered by Himmler to be too "soft" with the prisoners[citation needed], as the third and final commandant of Auschwitz from May 11, 1944 until the final dissolution of the camp in early 1945. From November 1943 until the end of 1944 Fritz Hartjenstein and Josef Kramer were responsible for the extermination camp Auschwitz II, Birkenau, so that Baer was only Commandant of this part of the camp from the end of 1944 until January 1945. Near the end of the war Richard Baer, having replaced Otto Förschner as commandant of the Dora-Mittelbau camp in Thuringia Nordhausen, was responsible for the execution of Russian prisoners at mass gallows. His final rank was SS-Sturmbannführer (Major).

At the end of the war, Baer fled and lived near Hamburg as Karl Egon Neumann, a forestry worker. In the course of investigation in theFrankfurt Auschwitz Trials a warrant for his arrest was issued in October 1960 and his photograph was printed in newspapers. He was recognised by a co-worker and arrested in December 1960 after Adolf Eichmann's arrest. On the advice of his lawyer he refused to testify and died of a heart attack in pre-trial detention in 1963.

The story of Baer's arrest is vividly recounted by Devin Pendas in his book The Frankfurt Auschwitz Trial (2006), p. 48f. After seeing a wanted picture in the Bild-Zeitung, a co-worker on Otto von Bismarck's estate reported that Baer was working as a forester there. When officials confronted "Neumann" in the forest on the early morning of December 20, 1960, he at first denied everything. Having already addressed Baer as her "husband", the woman in the house subsequently gave her name as "Frau Baer", but still claimed that Baer was named Neumann. Baer, however, finally admitted his true identity.


  • September 9, 1911, Floß – June 17, 1963

Josef Kramer

Josef Kramer 

(November 10, 1906 – December 13, 1945)

was the Commandant of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Dubbed "The Beast of Belsen" by camp inmates; he was a notorious Nazi war criminal, directly responsible for the deaths of thousands of people. He was convicted of war crimes and hanged in Hamelin prison by noted British executioner Albert Pierrepoint after World War II.


Kramer was born in Munich and joined the Nazi Party in 1931 and the SS in 1932. His SS training led him into work as a prison guard and, after the outbreak of war, as a concentration camp guard.

In 1934, he was assigned as a guard at Dachau. His promotion was rapid, obtaining senior posts at Sachsenhausen and Mauthausen concentration camps. He became assistant to Rudolf Höß, the Commandant at Auschwitz in 1940 and later the Commandant of Natzweiler-Struthofconcentration camp in April 1941.

In 1940, he accompanied Rudolf Höß to inspect Auschwitz as a possible site for a new synthetic coal oil and rubber plant, which was a vital industry in Germany given its shortage of oil.


Kramer served as commandant of Natzweiler-Struthof, the only concentration camp established by the Nazis on present-day French territory, though there were French-run transit camps such as the one at Drancy. At the time, the Alsace-Lorraine area in which it was established had been annexed by Nazi Germany.

As commandant at Natzweiler-Stuthof, Kramer personally carried out the gassings of 80 Jewish men and women, part of a group of 87 selected at Auschwitz to become anatomical specimens in a proposed Jewish skeleton collection to be housed at the Anatomy Institute at the Reich University of Strasbourg under the direction of August Hirt.


Kramer was promoted to the rank of Hauptsturmführer (Captain) in 1942 and, in May 1944, was put in charge of the gas chambers inAuschwitz concentration camp. He was to hold that position until December 1944, when he was transferred out and appointed as Commandant of Belsen.

At Auschwitz, Kramer soon became notorious among his subordinates as a harsh taskmaster. One of the defendants at the Frankfurt Trial, Dr. Franz Lucas, testified that he tried to avoid assignments given him by Kramer by pleading stomach and intestinal disorders. When Dr. Lucas saw that his name had been added to the list of selecting physicians for a large group of inmates transferred from Hungary, he objected strenuously. Kramer reacted sharply: "I know you are being investigated for favouring prisoners. I am now ordering you to go to the ramp, and if you fail to obey an order, I shall have you arrested on the spot".


In December 1944, Kramer was transferred from Birkenau to Bergen Belsen, near the village of Bergen. Belsen had originally served as a temporary camp for those leaving Germany, but during the war had been expanded to serve as a convalescent depot for the ill and displaced people from across north-west Europe. Although it had no gas chambers, Kramer's rule was so harsh that he became known as the 'Beast of Belsen'. As Germany collapsed administration of the camp broke down, but Kramer remained devoted to bureaucracy. On March 1, 1945, he filed a report asking for help and resources, stating that of the 42,000 inmates in his camp, 250-300 died each day from typhus. On March 19, the number of inmates rose to 60,000 as the Germans continued to evacuate camps that were soon to be liberated by the Allies. As late as the week of April 13, some 28,000 additional prisoners were brought in.

With the collapse of administration and many guards fleeing to escape retribution, roll calls were stopped, and the inmates were left to their own devices. Corpses rotted everywhere, and rats attacked the living too weak to fight them off. Kramer remained even when the British arrived to liberate the camp. He remained indifferent and callous and took them on a tour of the camp to inspect the 'scenes'. Piles of corpses were lying all over the camp, mass graves were filled in, and the huts were filled with prisoners in every stage of emaciation and disease.

Trial and execution Josef Kramer, photographed in leg ironsat Belsen before being removed to the POW cage at Celle, 17 April 1945.

Josef Kramer was imprisoned at the Hamelin jail. Josef Kramer and 44 other camp staff were tried in the Belsen Trial by a British military court at Lüneburg. The trial lasted several weeks from September to November 1945. He was sentenced to death on November 17, 1945, and hanged at Hamelin jail by Albert Pierrepoint on December 13, 1945.

Guilty Charges


  • November 10, 1906 – December 13, 1945

Robert Mulka~War Criminal

Robert Karl Ludwig Mulka 

(April 12, 1895, Hamburg – April 26, 1969, Hamburg)

was an SS-Obersturmführer. At Auschwitz concentration camp, he was adjutant to the camp commandant, SS-Obersturmbannführer Rudolf Höss.


Following his application in September 1939, Mulka joined the Nazi Party in 1940 as member number 7848085. Unwilling to begin as a common soldier and work his way up through the ranks, he applied to be a commissioned officer and successfully joined the Waffen-SS as an SS-Obersturmführer. He worked briefly as company leader of a sapper unit, but was declared only employable at garrisons in the homeland due to illness.[2] As a result, he was deployed to Auschwitz at the beginning of 1942. After he had led a watch company for a few weeks, the camp commandant's adjutant became ill, and thus Mulka became Rudolf Höss' right hand man as chief of staff of the commandant's office.

Mulka's tenure as Höss' adjutant began on July 1, 1942, and came to an end on March 30, 1943, when Hildegard Bischoff, the wife of the chief of the central construction agency, SS-Sturmbannführer Karl Bischoff (architect of the crematoria and gas chambers), claimed that he made a derogatory mark about Joseph Goebbels. He was briefly arrested, but the proceedings against him were dropped; however, he lost his position as SS-Hauptsturmführer and was demoted to SS-Obersturmführer.

Mulka subsequently returned to Hamburg in mid-1943 during the bombing of the city.Later he worked under the Nordsee High SS and Police command. Early in 1944 he was deployed to an SS sapper school near Prague, but after about a year illness forced his return to Hamburg, where he remained as the war came to an end.


In 1945, Mulka set up his own company: Import/Export Agency Robert Mulka. In the spring of 1948, he was arrested and kept in custody because of his SS membership. He was prosecuted and convicted under denazification proceedings, but was exonerated from his original one and a half year prison sentence.

In 1960, an attorney from the Frankfurt Public Prosecutor's office was reading the newspaper, which reported the success of a certain Rolf Mulka, a silver-medal-winning yachtsman, at the Rome Olympics. The prosecutor, who had been investigating Auschwitz since 1959, recognized the relatively uncommon name and investigated Rolf's father. His suspicion was correct, and Robert Mulka was arrested in November 1960. He was remanded in custody from then until March 1961, from May until December 1961, from February until October 1964, and then from December 1964.


At the time of his trial, Mulka was 68 years old and married with a daughter and two sons. The court noted that he had played a major role in the transformation of Auschwitz from a concentration camp into an extermination complex from mid-1942, in that the planning and construction of the four Birkenau crematoria and gas chamber complexes, and the selection of arriving transports of Jews on the Alte Rampe(Old ramp) for extermination, respectively occurred and began during his tenure. In the trial, Mulka said the Auschwitz atmosphere disgusted him, stating that "the things that transpired there shocked me from the beginning". When asked to elaborate, he pointed to the striped prisoner uniforms, commenting that his SS colleagues had "no style".

Mulka was found guilty of aiding and abetting the murder of 750 people on at least four separate occasions, and was sentenced to 14 years in prison. In the conviction, the court noted that:

After weighing up all of these points, there is indeed a serious suspicion, that the accused, as adjutant, internally approved and willingly supported the mass murder of Jews, and therefore acted in mens rea; final doubts cannot be dispelled, however, that he saw to the smooth implementation of extermination operations more out of command loyalty and a misplaced sense of duty, therefore only facilitating and supporting the acts of the main perpetrators.

He unsuccessfully attempted to commit suicide while in Kassel prison, and was released in 1968 on compassionate grounds because he was severely ill, dying the following year in Hamburg.


  • April 12, 1895~April 26, 1969

Karl-Friedrich Höcker

Karl-Friedrich Höcker

 (11 December 1911 Engershausen – 30 January 2000)

was a SS-Obersturmführer (First Lieutenant) and the adjutantto Richard Baer, who was a commandant of Auschwitz I concentration camp from May 1944 to February 1945. In 2006, a photo albumcreated by Höcker, with some 140 pictures from his time at Auschwitz, was given to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, sparking new interest in his activities as a concentration camp administrator.

n 16 November 1939 he joined the 9th SS Infantry Regiment based at Danzig and, in 1940, became the adjutant to the commanding SS officer of the Neuengamme concentration campMartin Gottfried Weiss. In 1942 Weiss was also the commanding officer of the Arbeitsdorfconcentration camp with Höcker serving as his adjutant. Before being transferred in May 1943 to the Majdanek concentration camp, again as adjutant to Weiss, Höcker followed a course at the SS military academy (Junkerschule) in Braunschweig. During the same period he also received some military training.

In 1943, he became the adjutant to the commandant at Majdanek during the Operation Reinhardt mass deportations and murders. Afterward, he became adjunct to Richard Baer, in 1944, who was previously deputy to WVHA chief Oswald Pohl in Berlin. In May 1944 Höcker was transferred to Auschwitz, where he remained until the advance of the Soviet army forced camp evacuation in January 1945, when he was transferred to the Dora-Mittelbau concentration camp along with Baer. The two men administered the camp until the Allies arrived. Höcker used false papers to flee the camp and avoid being identified by the British when they captured him.

Post-war trials

He married before the war and had a son and daughter during the war, with whom he was reunited after his release from 18 months in a British POW camp in 1946. Early in the 1960s he was apprehended by West German authorities in his hometown, where he was a bank official. It is not known why the bank rehired and promoted him after a long absence during which he had nothing to do with banking.

At his trial in Frankfurt, part of the noted Frankfurt Auschwitz Trials, Höcker denied having participated in the selection of victims at Birkenauor having ever personally executed a prisoner. He further denied any knowledge of the fate of the approximately 400,000 Hungarian Jews who were murdered at Auschwitz during his term of service at the camp. Höcker was shown to have knowledge of the genocidal activities at the camp, but could not be proved to have played a direct part in them. In postwar trials, Höcker denied his involvement in the selection process. While accounts from survivors and other SS officers all but placed him there, prosecutors could locate no conclusive evidence to prove the claim.

In August 1965 Höcker was sentenced to seven years imprisonment for aiding and abetting in over 1,000 murders at Auschwitz. He was released in 1970 and was able to return to his bank post as a chief cashier, where he worked until his retirement.

On 3 May 1989 a district court in the Germany city of Bielefeld sentenced Höcker to four years imprisonment for his involvement in gassing to death prisoners, primarily Polish Jews, in the concentration camp Majdanek in Poland. Camp records showed that between May 1943 and May 1944 Höcker had acquired at least 3,610 kilograms of Zyklon B poisonous gas for use in Majdanek from the Hamburg firm of Tesch & Stabenow

  • 11 December 1911~ 30 January 2000

Karl Hoecker’s Album

Karl Hoecker’s album, which had “thirty-one pages, and a hundred and sixteen black-and-white images, the bulk of them a little smaller than a playing card, nearly all of them portraying German officers,” Wilkinson writes. This first page shows Hoecker, right, with the commandant Richard Baer.

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Hoecker playing on a lawn with his dog, a German shepherd named Favorit. “Hoecker was born in Engerhausen, Germany, in December, 1911, the youngest child of six. His father, a bricklayer, died in the First World War, leaving his family impoverished. Hoecker worked at a bank, then joined the S.S. in 1933....At the beginning of the war, he was drafted into the S.S. Fighting Corps, and in 1940 he was sent to work at Neuengamme concentration camp, near Hamburg. In 1942, he was transferred to Majdanek, where he was adjutant during the Harvest Festival of November, 1943, when all the Jews from three camps, including Majdanek, were assembled and shot, in order to prevent uprisings. Forty-two thousand prisoners were killed in two days.”

This photograph, taken at Auschwitz, shows “nearly a hundred officers arrayed like a glee club up the side of a hill. The accordion player stands across the road,” Wilkinson writes. “All the men are singing except those in the very front, who perhaps feel too important for it.” The group includes Richard Baer; Rudolf Hoess, who had supervised the building of Auschwitz and had been its first commandant; and Josef Mengele, the doctor who performed infamous medical experiments on twins and other prisoners. This album contains eight pictures of Mengele—the only known photographs of him at Auschwitz.

Detlef Nebbe~War Criminal


Detlef Nebbe (also Detleff)

(born June 20, 1912) was an SS-Hauptscharführer[1] and member of staff at Auschwitz concentration camp. He was prosecuted at the Auschwitz Trial.

Born in Huson, Nebbe completed 7 years of primary school, becoming a salesman by trade. He joined the SS in 1933 and the Nazi party in 1937. On September 15, 1939 he was drafted into the Waffen-SS. On October 15, 1940 he was assigned to Auschwitz, where he remained until April 1944. In February 1941 he served as a sergeant in the guard company. An intimidating figure among SS men in his company, he was renowned as a devout Nazi, and would abuse prisoners by beating them defiantly. He also demonstrated to his colleagues how to behave towards prisoners. For his service, he was awarded the War Merit Cross Second Class with Swords.

Nebbe was tried by the Supreme National Tribunal at the Auschwitz Trial in Kraków for his role at the camp, and was sentenced to life imprisonment for his crimes. Due to an amnesty, he was released in the mid-fifties.


  • June 20, 1912~

Oskar Gröning~War Criminal


Oskar Gröning (in English: Groening) (born 1921) was a German SS-Rottenführer atAuschwitz concentration camp.

Born in Lower Saxony, Gröning's mother died when he was four. He received a strict upbringing from his father, a skilled textile worker. During his childhood, he joined various nationalist youth groups, including the Hitler Youth when the Nazis came to power in 1933, convinced that Nazism was advantageous to Germany. After school, he got a job as a trainee bank clerk, but inspired by Germany's military victories in France and Poland, subsequently joined the Waffen-SS. His role in salary administration granted him both the administrative and military aspects he wanted from job, but in 1942, the SS ordered that desk jobs should be reserved for injured veterans, and that fit members in administrative roles were to be subjected to more challenging duties.

This resulted in the culmination of Gröning's SS career: his deployment at Auschwitz. His responsibilities included counting and sorting the money stolen from exterminated prisoners, and guarding other prisoner belongings in the camp before they were plundered. While at the camp, he witnessed the entire killing process. After being transferred from Auschwitz to an active unit in 1944, Gröning was captured by the British on June 10, 1945 when his unit surrendered. After being temporarily held in a former concentration camp he was transferred to England in 1946, working as a forced labourer. He returned to Germany to lead a relatively normal life, preferring not to discuss his association with Auschwitz. However, he decided to make it public after learning about Holocaust denial, and has since openly criticised those who deny the events that he witnessed, and the ideology he once subscribed to.



Oskar Gröning’s job at Auschwitz was to count the money stolen from the arriving inmates and to arrange its transfer to Berlin. Though the Final Solution was ideologically motivated, the Nazis were well aware they could benefit financially from its implementation.

"In my job as administrator of these foreign currencies, I saw practically all the currencies of the world. Believe it or not, I saw them from the Italian lira to Spanish pesetas, to Hungarian and Mexican currencies, from dollars to the English pound."

In July 1942 Heinrich Himmler again visited Auschwitz. There were approximately 30,000 inmates there at the time, most of them Jews and Polish political prisoners. He inspected the main camp, the expansion at Birkenau, and the synthetic rubber factory being built in nearby Monowitz. Himmler also witnessed the gassing of Jews, and he promoted Rudolf Höss, Auschwitz’s commandant, to SS Lieutenant Colonel.



  • 1921


March 1942 to March 1943

Mother of Annette & Michel Muller

“They arrested people simply because they were born Jewish—That French people should do that is still beyond me, even 60 years later.” 
– Michel Muller

Jews from France who were non-French citizens were the first Jews to arrive at Auschwitz from Western Europe. Relatively few German soldiers were in France, and those who were there had an easier time than the soldiers fighting against the Russians in the East. France had been divided into two zones—only one of which was occupied by Germany, but the French largely administered both zones.

The only way Nazis could get Jews out of France was with the help of French authorities.

Although the Nazis wanted the French to turn over all Jews, the French agreed at first to round up only Jews with foreign citizenship, many of whom were in France because they had fled the Nazis in other countries.

The first roundup took place in July 1942. In an early morning visit, in the 20th Arrondissement of Paris, French Police knocked on the door of the Mullers—Jews originally from Poland.

Annette and Michel Muller, children at the time, describe what happened:

Annette Muller

Survivor of French deportations 
from Paris

“In the morning we were very violently woken by knocks on the door and I saw my mother on her knees on the ground, with her arms around the legs of two policemen. She was screaming and crying, and I saw the policemen, well the Inspectors, who were pushing her back with their feet saying, ‘Hurry up. Hurry up. Don’t make us waste our time.”

“I remember we were a bit frightened because it was so early in the morning. They told us to take three days worth of food. I seem to remember they said for three days. But that didn’t worry me. It wasn’t so much that I trusted my country’s police but rather that I completely trusted my mother.”

– Michel Muller, Survivor of French deportations from Paris

Since the Nazis’ greatest need was for Jewish adults who could work, Michel and Annette Muller were separated from their mother. Along with 4,000 other children, they were sent to a makeshift camp in the suburbs of Paris. It was called Drancy.

“My mother was in the first row of the women and she signalled to us with her eyes. Michel was crying. That’s the last image I have of my mother because then they took the women away and we children were left alone.”

– Annette Muller, survivor

Within a short time, all the children at Drancy were packed into freight trains and sent east. Michel and Annette Muller, however, were spared the journey because their father bribed French officials for their release.

The journey for the parentless children lasted two days and nights before it ended at Auschwitz. They were then taken from the train ramp to the gas chambers at Auschwitz-Birkenau, where they were murdered with the poisonous insecticide Zyklon B. None of the children sent from Drancy survived.

More than 4,000 children were sent from France to Auschwitz, and every one of them was murdered.

During 1942 about 200,000 Jews were sent to Auschwitz from all over Europe— France, Holland, Belgium, Norway, Yugoslavia, Poland, the Czech lands, Slovakia, Austria, and Germany. About 70 percent of them were murdered immediately upon arrival.


April 1943 to March 1944

Prisoners at forced labor building airplane parts at the Siemens factory in the Bobrek labor camp

By 1943 Auschwitz had grown significantly and now had multiple subcamps,  
many of which provided slave labor for armaments factories and other industries, eventually generating millions of Reichsmarks for Nazi Germany. In March new gas chambers and crematoria opened at Auschwitz-Birkenau, dramatically increasing the camp’s killing capacity.

“There was no God in Auschwitz. There were such horrible conditions that God decided not to go there.”

– Libusa Breder, Jewish prisoner, Auschwitz

A few hundred yards from Birkenau’s gas chambers and crematoria was an area of the camp the inmates called "Canada." It was so named because Canada was thought to be a country of great riches. Inmates’ possessions were taken from them upon arrival and brought there. The items were sorted and sent back to Germany, although some were stolen by SS guards.

“Working in Canada saved my life because we had food, we got water. And that was the best working unit for life because we were not beaten,” 
– Libusa Breder

Mostly women inmates worked in "Canada," and it was one of the few sought-after jobs in Auschwitz. They could grow their hair out and were able to steal extra food from the belongings as they sorted through them. Also, relationships between German guards and women prisoners sometimes developed in Canada, although such relationships were strictly against SS rules.

Helena Citrónová, a Slovakian Jew deported to Auschwitz in 1942, drew the attention of a SS guard named Franz Wunsch.

Helena Citrónová Slovakian Jewish survivor

“When he came into the barracks where I was working, he threw me a note. I destroyed it right there and then, but I did see the word 'love’—'I fell in love with you.’ “I thought I’d rather be dead than be involved with an SS man. For a long time afterwards there was just hatred. I couldn’t even look at him.”  Helena’s feelings for Wunsch, however, changed over time, especially when her sister and her sister’s children arrived at Auschwitz Birkenau. Helena learned that they were to be sent to the gas chamber and her SS admirer tried to help them.

Jews deemed unfit for work on their way to Gas Chamber 4, Auschwitz-Birkenau

"So he said to me, 'Tell me quickly what your sister’s name is before I’m too late.’ So I said, 'You won’t be able to. She came with two little children.' He replied, 'Children, that’s different. Children can’t live here.’ So he ran to the crematorium and found my sister."

Franz Wunsch was able to save Helena’s sister by saying she worked for him in Canada, but he could do nothing for the children. Helena and her sister survived Auschwitz, and although her relationship with Wunsch never developed further, she did testify on his behalf years later at his war crimes trial.

“If a lot of stuff is piled up together, then you can easily stash away something for your personal gain. Stealing things for yourself was absolutely common practice in Auschwitz.”

– Oskar Gröning

Oskar Gröning (right) was an active member of the camp's sports club

SS guards preferred working at Auschwitz over fighting against the Red Army on the deadly eastern front. Liquor was in ready supply and military discipline was lax. A black market existed for just about everything. Women also served as SS guards; they could be as brutal as the men. Oskar Gröning, an SS guard at Auschwitz, remembers what it was like:

“The main camp of Auschwitz was like a small town, with its gossiping and chatting. There was a grocery, a canteen, a cinema. There was a theatre with regular performances. And there was a sports club of which I was a member. It was all fun and entertainment, just like a small town.

Although the Nazi leadership was unconcerned about the murder of thousands of people in gas chambers—in Himmler’s eyes that was a sacred duty—they did mind losing goods and money to corrupt guards. In the autumn of 1943, SS Lieutenant Konrad Morgen was sent to Auschwitz to investigate theft, but clever guards found ways to outwit him. The attitude that it was acceptable to profit personally from the Jews was entrenched.

Josef Mengele, official portrait

In May 1943 Dr. Josef Mengele, an SS physician, arrived at Auschwitz. Along with other Nazi doctors, he conducted atrocious experiments on women, children, twins, infants, and others. Mengele saw Auschwitz as a human laboratory, one that allowed him to pursue any idea in the name of Nazi science.

Mengele experimented on Eva Mozes Kor and her twin sister Miriam:

Eva Mozes Kor

Romanian jewish survivor of Dr. Mengele's experiments

“Mengele came in every morning after roll call to count us. He wanted to know every morning how many guinea pigs he had.

“Three times a week both of my arms would be tied to restrict the blood flow, and they took a lot of blood from my left arm. At the same time they would give me a minimum of five injections into my right arm.

“After one of those injections I became extremely ill and Dr Mengele came in next morning with four other doctors. He looked at my fever chart and he said, laughing sarcastically, he said: ‘Too bad, she is so young. She has only two weeks to live.’ I would fade in and out of consciousness. I would keep telling myself: I must survive. I must survive.”

“Would I have died, my twin sister Miriam would have been rushed immediately to Mengele’s lab, killed with an injection to the heart. Then Mengele would have done the comparative autopsies. That is the way most of the twins died."

Children survivors display the tattoos they received while imprisoned in Auschwitz

By autumn 1943 resistance against Nazi occupation was growing. In Denmark that resistance included rescue of Jews. With the help of a German diplomat who informed Danish leaders that a roundup of Jews was upcoming, the Danes helped most of their Jewish population flee to safety in Sweden.

Heinrich Himmler, meanwhile, was developing an idea to provide hardworking prisoners with incentives in the camp system. He expressed his thoughts in a letter to Otto Pohl of the SS Economic Division.

“I consider it necessary to provide in the most liberal way hard-working prisoners with women in brothels.”

– Heinrich Himmler, Commander of the SS

Heinrich Himmler's letter to the SS Economic Division, which outlined his plan to reward hard-working prisoners with incentives such as access to women.

Pohl, in turn, directed these instructions to commandants such as Rudolf Höss at Auschwitz. Brothel vouchers were to be issued only to prisoners of special value—and certainly not to Jews.

Consequently, Block 24, just beside the main gate of Auschwitz, became a brothel. And prisoners such as Ryszard Dacko, a member of the Auschwitz fire brigade, were given access to it.

Ryszard Dacko Polish political prisoner and member  of the Auschwitz fire brigade

“If I wanted to get a voucher, I had to sort things out with an SS-man. And they only gave vouchers to healthy prisoners. They wouldn’t give them to prisoners who were on their last legs. Prisoners who worked as cooks for the SS, as hairdressers for the SS— the special prisoners got those vouchers. I got two vouchers.

“I wanted to cuddle up to her as much as I could, because it was three and a half years since I’d been arrested, three and a half years without a woman.”

The brothel was in operation until January 1945, and though little is known about the women forced to work here, it is believed they were chosen from non-Jewish inmates. The whole subject is one that most prefer not to talk about, but the suffering endured by these women is perhaps one of the least acknowledged aspects of the history of Auschwitz.


Murder & Intrigue

Birkenau: the site of mass murder at Auschwitz since 1942

March 1944 to December 1944

Germans tanks roll into Hungary

In March 1944 German troops marched into Budapest. 

Although Hungary was allied to the Nazis, Hitler considered the country an unreliable partner, especially when they refused to deport some 760,000 Hungarian Jews.

While Jewish activist Joel Brandt was in Turkey trying to arrange a deal with the Allies, Hungarian Jews were being transported to Auschwitz. As a general rule photography was prohibited at Auschwitz, but a cameraman from the SS took these photographs of an arriving Hungarian transport

On April 25, 1944, SS officer Adolf Eichmann, famous for organizing the mass murder of Jews, held a meeting in Budapest with a Hungarian Jew named Joel Brandt. Brandt was a well-known, politically active member of the Jewish community. During the meeting, Eichmann made the surprising offer to sell him one million Hungarian Jews. Nazi Germany, Eichmann explained, was more interested in goods (trucks, in particular) than in money, and he wanted Brandt to travel abroad and connect with international authorities to broker a deal.

Shortly thereafter, on May 17, 1944, Eichmann allowed Brandt to leave Hungary. His mission was to see if the Allies would exchange ten thousand trucks for one million Jews. Brandt’s mission was urgent. The deportation of Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz had already begun.

“A couple of Germans were separating us. When he was looking at the old people he put to the right and the young people to the left. The right lane they took them right away to the gas chamber.”

– Morris Venezia, Hungarian Jewish prisoner, Auschwitz

Joel Brandt arrived in Istanbul, Turkey, and met representatives with ties to the Jewish leadership in Palestine. Brandt told them things were getting difficult for the Germans and they wanted to negotiate. He insisted Jerusalem be cabled immediately. The reaction from the room was noncommittal. Brandt was finally told to travel to Aleppo, Syria, where on June 11, 1944, he met with Moshe Shertok of the Jewish Agency. What he heard was bad news for the Jews of Hungary.

The British believed that the trucks the Nazis wanted to exchange for Jews was an attempt by Heinrich Himmler to split the Allies. According to the Nazi proposal, the trucks were to be used only on the Eastern Front, against the advancing Red Army.

Foreign Office, London

At the Foreign Office in London, the Brandt proposal was considered on May 31. The proposal was rejected because the idea of exchanging trucks for Jews was thought to be blackmail.

Soon after this decision, the Americans and Soviets also agreed not to negotiate with the Nazis.

“Most of us knew that in Auschwitz from 
the taps there didn’t come any water but gas. And from the taps came fine warm water. Afterwards we dressed up and returned to 
our train.”

– Eva Speter, Hungarian Jewish prisoner allowed to travel to neutral Switzerland

"Auschwitz Protocols" included maps showing location of crematoria and gas chambers at Birkenau

From early 1944 onwards, the level of knowledge about Auschwitz and its role as an extermination camp began to grow among the Allies. This was helped by a handful of prisoners escaping from Auschwitz, as well as the work of the Polish resistance. The available intelligence was finally put together in a 30-page report that became known as the "Auschwitz Protocols." It included sketches showing the location of the gas chambers and crematoria at Birkenau.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State John McCloy considered the proposed bombing of Auschwitz impractical

Because of these documents, the American government in June 1944—only weeks after the D-Day landings—received requests from Jewish organizations calling for the bombing of Auschwitz’s gas chambers and the railway lines that led to the camp.

The requests were rejected by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State John McCloy on the grounds that the bombing was "impractical" and would lead to "diversion of considerable air support" that was essential elsewhere.

Aerial photo of Auschwitz taken by an American plane on a bombing run

In August, however, the Americans bombed the IG Farben factory at Monowitz, just a few miles from Birkenau. During one bombing run, American aerial photographs clearly showed Auschwitz-Birkenau’s crematoria.

Libuša Breder, a Jewish prisoner at Auschwitz saw the American planes fly over.

“We heard the aeroplanes coming and we wanted them to put the bombs on the camp. At least we could run. Hundreds and hundreds of planes were coming and we are looking up and no bombs. So this we could not understand. So absolutely god forgot us and people of the war forgot us... didn’t care about what’s going on and they knew what’s going on there.”

– Libuša Breder, Jewish Prisoner, Auschwitz

Whether precision bombing of the crematoria and gas chambers was possible, and whether that would have stopped the Nazis from committing further murders at Auschwitz, is one of history’s unanswered questions.

The Nazis thought the Gypsies racially dangerous

In July 1944 the Hungarian authorities would no longer cooperate with Germany and officially halted the deportation of the Hungarian Jews. The Nazis at Auschwitz then focused greater attention on the Gypsies (Roma and Sinti) who had been imprisoned at Birkenau for some time.

“There were moments, moments which one really prefers not to think about. We were beaten, kicked, degraded, but you didn’t know why—simply because we were different.”

– Franz Rosenbach, Gypsy prisoner, Auschwitz

The Gypsies lived in family groups in some of the worst conditions in the camp. The Nazis despised their way of life, thought them racially dangerous, and moved to liquidate them on the evening of August 2, 1944.

Wladyslaw Szmyt, a Polish prisoner at Auschwitz, remembers that night.


Wladyslaw Szmyt

Polish prisoner at Auschwitz

“...Everybody defended themselves, defended themselves to the last. They bit, they scratched. The Germans had driven in trucks. They threw the children in them, and if one of them jumped out, they would hit him on the leg or the arm with a wooden club, break it and throw him back in, so that he couldn’t jump out again, couldn’t get out because his limb was just hanging there.

“When I saw this, I started yelling. And people grabbed me—Poles—as they were afraid that the Germans would come and throw a hand grenade in or something.

“They rolled me in a blanket to keep me quiet and sat with me.”

Most of the Gypsies were taken to crematoria four and five and killed within their network of gas chambers. Altogether the Nazis would eventually kill about 300,000 of an estimated one million Gypsies in Europe.

By January 1945 the SS knew that the Red Army was approaching Auschwitz. Several weeks earlier Himmler had ordered the dismantling of the camp. The crematoria and gas chambered were blown up. On January 18 the Germans evacuated more than 60,000 Auschwitz inmates. They were marched in subzero temperatures to railway junctions. Thousands died, many by shooting, on the way. Those who made it to the rail stations were put in open wagons and sent west to become slave laborers. Some prisoners, many of them too weak or ill to travel, were left behind.

One prisoner, Morris Venezia, remembered that journey.

Morris Venezia

Auschwitz prisoner

“The wagon was very packed, one guy was up. 
He told us he was German. Who knows? Maybe a convict. And he wanted to sit down. So he told me, ‘I’ve got some cigarettes. Would you let me sit down? So he gave me two or three cigarettes. 
I got up and he sit.

“So the cigarettes in 5–10 minutes were gone. 
I told him, ‘Get up. Stand up’. He wouldn’t stand up. So, me and a couple of my friends sit on him and about 30 minutes, one hour, he was suffocated and was thrown out of the wagon.
I was happy.

“How did I feel?

“They killed all my family—about 30, 40 people 
of my family and I killed one German. 
That was nothing.

[Interviewer: It was a murder wasn’t it, you did murder a fellow prisoner?]

“I told you— because he was a German. 
I wouldn’t do that to one of ours, but anyway I wanted to be seated, too, because I got tired. too. Why should he live, because he gave me two, three cigarettes?”

More Witnesses

Members of the SS who were complicit in the murder of Jews and others, such as Rudolf Höss, camp commandant at Auschwitz, knew that they risked retribution once the war ended. Most of them now tried to flee and go into hiding.



Liberation & Revenge

Auschwitz prisoners are liberated by Russian forces

"I realized that they were prisoners and not workers so I called out, "You are free, come out!" 
– Vasily Gromadsky, Russian officer, 60th Army, liberating Auschwitz

As the Soviet army approached and the end of the war came closer the vast majority of Auschwitz prisoners were marched west by the Nazis, into Germany. Those few thousand remaining were thought too ill to travel, and were left behind to be shot by the SS. In the confusion that followed the abandonment of the camp, the SS left them alive. The prisoners were found by Soviet forces when they liberated Auschwitz on January 27, 1945.

Vasily Gromadsky, a Russian officer with the 60th Army liberating Auschwitz recalls what happened.

"They [the prisoners] began rushing towards us, in a big crowd. They were weeping, embracing us and kissing us. I felt a grievance on behalf of mankind that these fascists had made such a mockery of us. It roused me and all the soldiers to go and quickly destroy them and send them to hell."

“We ran up to them and they gave us hugs, cookies, and chocolate. Being so alone a hug meant more than anybody could imagine because that replaced the human worth that we were starving for. We were not only starved for food but we were starved for human kindness. And the Soviet Army did provide some of that.”

– Eva Mozes Kor, age 10, child survivor of Auschwitz

Child survivors of Auschwitz, wearing adult-size prisoner jackets. Eva Mosez Kor (right) and her sister

Eva Mozes Kor, age 10, was one of several hundred children, many of them twins, who were left behind. She and her twin sister Miriam had been subjects in Dr. Josef Mengele’s medical experiments. She describes what it was like to see the liberating Russians.

In the days before the Russians arrived at Auschwitz, Rudolf Höss, Commandant of Auschwitz, and his men tried to conceal the mass murders that had taken place at the camp. Files were removed or destroyed and gas chambers blown up, but their rushed efforts could not hide from the Russians and the world the fact that terrible crimes had been committed here.

 Soldier raising the Russian flag on the reichstag in Berlin, April 30, 1945

Within 84 days of liberating Auschwitz, Soviet forces were in Berlin. With Russian soldiers only blocks away, Adolf Hitler committed suicide on April 30, 1945, in his fuehrer-bunker beneath the Reich Chancellery.

Shortly before the end of the war, Commandant Höss was told by his boss Heinrich Himmler to disappear into the navy to avoid capture. Höss disguised himself as a petty officer and hid among the sailors at the German navy base on the holiday island of Sylt. His disguise worked perfectly. Höss was briefly detained by the British and then released to work on a farm as a field hand. Himmler, however, was captured. But he committed suicide before he could be put on trial.

As the Allies learned more about the severity of the Nazis’ crimes at Auschwitz, they realized that Rudolf Höss was still alive and hiding in Germany. British Intelligence discovered Höss’s wife and family living north of Hanover. She was arrested and interrogated. At first she said her husband was dead, but at the threat of having her son turned over to the Russians, she revealed her husband’s whereabouts, and British soldiers captured him on the farm where he was hiding. Höss was incarcerated locally and then moved to Nuremberg as part of the war crimes trial.

Whitney Harris, a member of the prosecuting team at the Nuremberg trials, recalls what Rudolf Höss was like.

“He struck me as a normal person, that was the horrible thing about it. He was cool, objective, matter of fact. ‘This is my war duty. I did my war duty.’ It was like I had to go out and cut down so many trees. So I went out and took my saw and cut the trees down. He was just acting like a normal, unimportant individual.

“He simply answered the questions, and as far as I could tell, told what happened without emotion. Without emotion. Without a sense of guilt. Not in the slightest apologetic, not in the remotest degree was he apologetic. In a sense, I think he showed a certain pride in accomplishmen

"They invented that at Auschwitz, 
this camp of death, they were training spies. So somebody got this idea in 
his head, ‘What if they had turned me into a spy?’" (Pavel Stenkin, Former Soviet POW, Auschwitz)

While Höss waited in prison for trial, much of the Nazi empire was now in the hands of the Russian Army. The Soviets treated not only their German prisoners more harshly than did the British, they were also brutal with many Soviet prisoners who returned from Nazi camps. Often Soviet POWs were accused of having been turned into German spies and, after their release from German captivity, the Soviets severely punished them. Refugees who tried to return home to Soviet-controlled Eastern Europe often faced brutal treatment from Soviet soldiers, who sometimes raped and killed them.

In 1947 Rudolf Höss was returned to Poland, tried for his crimes, and sentenced to death. During his time in prison he wrote his memoirs, which revealed much about the running of the camp and the mind of its commandant.

Execution of Rudolf Höss

“One woman approached me as she walked past and pointed to her four children who were manfully helping the smallest ones over the rough ground and whispered, ‘How can you bring yourself to kill such beautiful darling children? Have you no heart at all?”

– Memoirs of Rudolf Höss, Commandant of Auschwitz

Höss wrote that the reasons behind the Nazi extermination program seemed right to him, and he described watching women and children being taken to the gas chambers.

The only regret he expressed was that he did not spend more time with his family. On April 16, 1947, he was hanged on a specially constructed gallows in Auschwitz, the site of his crimes.

Stanislaw Hantz, a guard at Auschwitz-Birkenau, recalls Höss’s execution.


Stanislaw Hantz

Guard, Auschwitz-Birkenau

“When they were leading him to the gallows, Höss looked calm. I thought as he climbed to the gallows, up the steps—knowing him to be a Nazi, a hardened party member—that he would say something. Like make a statement to the glory of the Nazi ideology that he was dying for. But no. He didn’t say a word. And during the execution you thought: One life for so many millions of people, is that not too little?”

Rudolf Höss before his execution on a specially constructed gallows in Auschwitz

After the war, many Nazis successfully returned to a normal life, although they often tried to hide their past from their neighbors as well as their families. Years after his escape Adolf Eichmann was discovered in Argentina, captured, sent to Israel for trial, convicted, and executed. Of the roughly seven thousand SS troops who served at Auschwitz and who survived the war, most were not arrested or tried for their crimes. Many lived productive lives. The inmate survivors of the camps were less able to resume their prewar lives. They had lost their families as well as their property. There was no compensation for their losses.

In four years, some 1.3 million people were sent to Auschwitz, and at least 1.1 million died there, all so-called enemies of the Nazi state and the vast majority of them Jews. The grounds of the death camp continue to serve as a reminder of the past and a warning to the future.


Victims and Perpetrators

To understand how the Holocaust happenedand to grasp its repercussions, the voices of its victims and perpetrators need to be heard. Their testimony deepens awareness of the Holocaust's destruction, challenges assumptions about human nature, and requires us to reflect on ethical questions about right and wrong, good and evil.

The Victims

Thomas Blatt
Jewish prisoner, Sobibor
Pavel Stenkin
Soviet POW, Auschwitz
Moshe Tavor
Jewish Brigade member
The Perpetrators

Hans Friedrich

1st SS Infantry Brigade
Michal Kabác
Slovak Hlinka Guard
Oskar Gröning
SS Garrison, Auschwitz
The testimonies of victims—those who died and those who survived—provide the most effective way to humanize the Holocaust. In words that are written or spoken, and sometimes in the gaps and silences that surround them, the victims' voices reveal how the Holocaust affected individuals one by one. The listener or the reader needs to respect the particularity of each victim's experience.

Disturbing though the perpetrators' testimonies may be, partly because their words frequently are problematic, self-serving defense mechanisms, those statements are also crucial sources.

In many cases, such openness may question our assumptions about how people ought to respond to disaster, and it may require the listener or reader to see that the testimony of Holocaust survivors does not fulfill our hopes for happy endings to tragic events. Although the Holocaust was stopped with the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945, it left a legacy of immense pain and loss for the survivors. Unless we allow that testimony to sink in, we will miss what the survivors are saying. Sad as they are, accounts by victims also leave readers and listeners amazed at the determination and courage people showed as they struggled to survive in desperate circumstances.

By contrast, when the perpetrators rarely break the silence and anonymity that they prefer, their words usually produce the opposite effect: the reader or listener is appalled by the perpetrators' lack of remorse and disquieted by the all-too-familiar human weaknesses that the perpetrators display. Disturbing though the perpetrators' testimonies may be, partly because their words frequently are problematic, self-serving defense mechanisms, those statements are also crucial sources. They open a window into the perpetrators' thinking, both at the time those people participated in genocide and afterward, as they tried to find ways to rationalize their actions so that they could move on with their lives.    

Thomas Blatt: Jewish prisoner, Sobibor

Thomas Blatt, former Jewish prisoner at Sobibor

Thomas Blatt was one of the very few survivors of Sobibor, a Nazi killing center in eastern Poland where 250,000 Jews were murdered in 1942-1943. During and after the war, much of the property in Eastern Europe that once belonged to Jews was taken over by others. In the late 1980s, Blatt returned to Izbica, Poland, to visit the home where he had grown up with his parents. His conversation with the "owner" of the house at that time helps to show some of the Holocaust's destructive reverberations.

Thomas Blatt: He let me in. I've seen the chair. My old chair from a long time ago. And I say - oh, I recognise this chair! My father used to sit on it.

[current owner of house] 'No, no, no, I bought it!'

So I took the chair, turn it over, and there was our name on the other side.

He said Mr Blatt -' why the whole comedy with the chair, I know why you are here. You have hidden money here, your parents had some money' …

He was so angry. [I said] Goodbye.

He said, Mr Blatt, wait a minute you could take it out and we divide even the money. Give him 50% and 50% me.

I just left.

Thomas Blatt returned to Izbican a few years later to find that the house had become uninhabitable.

So I went to neighbors and asked the neighbour what's happened here?

She said, 'Oh, Mr Blatt, when you left we were unable to sleep because day and night he was looking for the treasure that you were supposed to leave.

He took the floor apart, the walls apart, everything. And later he found himself in the position where he couldn't fix it -- too much money, so he left it. Take a look -- it's a ruin.

Pavel Stenkin: Soviet POW, Auschwitz

Pavel Stenkin, former Soviet POW, Auschwitz

Pavel Stenkin was a Red Army prisoner at Auschwitz. One of the Russian POWs forced to build the camp at Birkenau, he was among the few who survived that hard labor. Upon liberation from Auschwitz by his Russian comrades in 1945, Stenkin was exiled to the Ural mountains, a victim of Stalin's policy that all surviving POWs should be treated as suspected traitors. His eventual destination was a labor camp within the Soviet Gulag system. Only after Stalin's death, and twelve years after his capture by the Germans in 1941, was Stenkin finally released in 1953.

Pavel Stenkin: They invented that at Auschwitz—this Camp of Death, they were training spies. So somebody got this idea in his head—what if they had turned me into a spy?

When I arrived in Perm [in the Urals] to work I was called in every 2nd night—"admit this, agree to that, we know everything, we only don't know the purpose you were sent here for. But we will find out with or without your help. Come on, admit that you are a spy."

And I would say—"I am not a spy, I'm an honest Soviet man."

And the interrogator smiled ironically—"Soviet man." And he smiled again. "Just confess and it'll all be over."

They were tormenting and tormenting me. And then they decided to get rid of me. They sent me to prison. And the details of my sentence—do you think I heard anything or I read anything about it? I heard nothing and read nothing. Judges were in a rush, they had theatre tickets so they were in hurry to leave the court.

I was always feeling hungry.

It was not until I was released from prison, in 1953 that I started to eat my fill.

Moshe Tavor: Jewish Brigade Member

Moshe Tavor, Jewish Brigade member who fought against the Germans in Italy

Moshe Tavor was a member of the Jewish Brigade, a unit of the British Army that fought the Germans in Italy in 1944-45. Tavor and others in the unit resolved to take justice into their own hands and pay back the Germans for the atrocities they had committed. Using whatever information they could find, they tracked down Germans who, they believed, had participated in killing Jews. Tavor and his comrades succeeded in locating relatively few Germans who were allegedly involved in Nazi extermination programs, but when they did identify suspects, they took them to isolated places and executed them.

In 1960, Moshe Tavor was part of the Israeli team that kidnapped former SS Lieutenant Colonel Adolf Eichmann, who was hiding in Argentina. Eichmann, who had coordinated much of the "Final Solution," was brought to Israel, where he was placed on trial and convicted for crimes against the Jewish people, sentenced to death, and executed on June 1, 1962.

Moshe Tavor, Jewish Brigade member who fought against the Germans in Italy

Moshe Tavor: We [Jewish Brigade members] got angrier and angrier. Many of us felt that it wasn't enough that we just participated in the war.

A few of us gathered together and we decided we had to try to take revenge on the people who had done this. We had no illusions that we could get all of them, but maybe we could get a few of them, at least.

We drove to a place we had selected before. Like a forest or some place that was inhabited. And there we put him on trial, and we read him all the charges. They were based on everything we knew from the underground. Sometimes he had a chance to say a few words to defend himself. And then we would finish him off.

Usually one of us would strangle him.

Interviewer: Did you ever strangle someone like that?

Moshe Tavor: Yes, not that I was happy to do it, but I did it. I was completely aware of what I did. I didn't have to drink beforehand to lift my morale, I was always enthusiastic enough. I knew that my uncles and my grandparents and other relatives - tens of them were annihilated.

Interviewer: But you killed a person without a proper trial. How do you feel about that? How can you possibly explain that?

Moshe Tavor: Look, in my life until then I'd already done quite a few things which were not exactly straight.

But to say that I feel guilty for what I did to them, on the contrary, completely the opposite.

I feel guilty for what we didn't do to them.

Hans Friedrich: 1st SS Infantry Brigade

In scenes repeated across the area of the Soviet Union occupied by the Nazis in 1941, men, women and children were ordered to strip and prepare to die

From the moment the Germans invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, Nazi special units operating throughout the countryside and towns shot many male Jews including Communists, civic leaders and even those just of military age. After a series of meetings between Hitler and Himmler in the summer of 1941, there was an escalation in the persecution of the Soviet Jews. New units were committed to special duties in the East, among them the 1st SS Infantry Brigade, which began to target Jewish women and children as well as men.

Hans Friedrich

Hans Friedrich was a member of the 1st Infantry Brigade. He claims not to recall exactly the actions in which he took part that summer, but he does admit that he participated in the killing of Jews.

Hans Friedrich: Try to imagine there is a ditch, with people on one side, and behind them soldiers. That was us and we were shooting. And those who were hit fell down into the ditch. …

They were so utterly shocked and frightened, you could do with them what you wanted.

Interviewer: Could you tell me what you were thinking and feeling when you were shooting?

Hans Friedrich, 1st SS Infantry Brigade

Hans Friedrich: Nothing. I only thought, 'Aim carefully' so that you hit properly. That was my thought.

Interviewer: This was your only thought? During all that time you had no feelings for the people, the Jewish civilians that you shot?

Hans Friedrich: No.

Interviewer: And why not?

Hans Friedrich: Because my hatred towards the Jews is too great. … And I admit my thinking on this point is unjust, I admit this. But what I experienced from my earliest youth when I was living on a farm, what the Jews were doing to us—well that will never change. That is my unshakeable conviction.

Interviewer: What in God's name did the people you shot have to do with those people who supposedly treated you badly at home? They simply belonged to the same group! What else? What else did they have to do with it?

Hans Friedrich: Nothing, but to us they were Jews!

Michal Kabác: Slovak Hlinka Guard

Slovakian propaganda anti-Semitic poster

Some 90,000 Jews lived in Slovakia, a Nazi satellite state after the Germans partitioned Czechoslovakia in 1939. One of the first German-allied countries to agree to the deportation of Jews as part of the "Final Solution," Slovakia signed an agreement with Nazi Germany in March 1942. Between March and October of that year, approximately 60,000 Slovakian Jews were sent to their deaths in German-occupied Poland.

Michal Kabác

For most of the Slovakian Jews, deportation began with imprisonment at a holding camp outside the city of Bratislava. During the roundups as well as in such camps, the Slovakian Jews were under the control of the Hlinka Guard, Slovakia's pro-Nazi militia. Michal Kabác belonged to this unit. Soon after the deportations began, he became aware of the Jews' likely fate.

Michal Kabác: A Jew would never go to work. None of them work; they only wanted to have an easy life. Our people were happy to receive their stores. We called it aryanising them. And that's how they become rich. …

Later when the Jews were coming to the camps, we used to take their belongings and clothes.

The deputy commander came and said to us to go and choose from the clothes. I took some clothes, others did as well. Then I took 3 pairs of shoes. Everyone took what he could. I wrapped it all with a rope and brought it back home.

We, the guards, were doing quite well.

Interviewer: How could you personally participate in the deportation knowing those people were certainly going to die?

Michal Kabác: What could I have done? I was thinking both ways. I thought it will be peace and quiet here, you deserved it. But on the other hand, there were innocent people among them as well. I was thinking both ways.

Oskar Gröning: SS Garrison, Auschwitz

Luggage being collected from an arriving train at Auschwitz

In the fall of 1941, SS private Oskar Gröning began work at Auschwitz. His jobs eventually included supervision of the collection of luggage taken from Jews as the deportation trains arrived. He was also put in charge of counting the money stolen from the Jews at Auschwitz and organizing its transfer to Berlin.

Oskar Gröning

At the time, Gröning agreed with Nazi ideology, which falsely affirmed that there was a Jewish conspiracy to dominate the world, but the available evidence does not indicate that he took part directly in killing Jews at Auschwitz. Nor did he wish to remain at Auschwitz. Documents confirm that he applied for a transfer to the front, but his request was refused.

Oskar Gröning: It was not long before I was assigned to supervise the luggage collection of an incoming transport.

When this was over, it was just like a fairground, there was lots of rubbish left and amongst this rubbish were ill people, those unable to walk. And the way these people were treated really horrified me. For example, a child who was lying there naked was simply pulled by the legs and chucked into a lorry to be driven away, and when it screamed like a sick chicken, then they bashed it against the edge of the lorry, so it shut up.

SS private Oskar Gröning

We were convinced by our world view that we had been betrayed by the entire world, and that there was a great conspiracy of the Jews against us.

Interviewer: But surely, when it comes to children you must realise that they cannot possibly have done anything to you?

Oskar Gröning: The children, they're not the enemy at the moment. The enemy is the blood inside them. The enemy is the growing up to be a Jew that could become dangerous. And because of that the children were included as well.

Interviewer: But … aren't you sorry that you made your own life more comfortable while millions actually died?

Oskar Gröning: Absolutely not. Everybody is looking out for them selves. So many people died in the war, not only Jews.

So many things happened, so many were shot, so many snuffed it. People burnt to death, so many were burnt, if I thought about all of that I wouldn't be able to live one minute longer.… The special situation at Auschwitz led to friendships of which I'm still saying today I like to look back on with joy.

There are many in the world today who deny the reality of the atrocities committed by the Nazis. And it is to confront those who disbelieve that Oskar Gröning broke his silence and testified about what he saw at Auschwitz.

Oskar Gröning: I see it as my task, now at my age, to face up to these things that I experienced and to oppose the Holocaust deniers who claim that Auschwitz never happened.

And that's why I am here today.

Because I want to tell those deniers: I have seen the gas chambers, I have seen the crematoria, I have seen the burning pits - and I want you to believe me that these atrocities happened................I was there.

Franz Romeikat~War Criminal


Franz Romeikat 

(October 7, 1904 - ?)

was an SS-Unterscharführer and staff member atAuschwitz concentration camp. He was prosecuted in the Auschwitz Trial.

Romeikat was born in Iwenberg (then in East Prussia). A watchmaker by trade, he became a member of the Nazi party and the SS by March 6, 1933. In November 1940 he was drafted into the Waffen-SS and in February 1941 he was assigned to Auschwitz. At first he worked in the clothing section, then from November 1942 to October 1944 he worked in Department IV (Administration), dealing with prisoners' property. He was cruel to prisoners, sometimes beating them, and participated in the plundering of property from those killed in the Birkenau gas chambers.

Romeikat was tried by the Supreme National Tribunal at the Auschwitz Trial in Kraków and sentenced to 15 years in prison for his crimes. Due to an amnesty, he was released in the fifties.


Erich Dinges~War Criminal


rich Adam Oskar Dinges 

(November 20, 1911, - ?)

was an SS-Sturmmann and member of staff at Auschwitz concentration camp. He was prosecuted at the Auschwitz Trial.

Dinges was born in Frankfurt am Main. He worked as a driving instructor. He joined the Nazi party and the SS on March 1, 1932. From May 30, 1941 to November 1944 he was a chauffeur at Auschwitz.

Dinges was tried by the Supreme National Tribunal in Kraków and was sentenced to 5 years in prison.


Eduard Wirths~War Criminal

Eduard Wirths 

(September 4, 1909 – September 20, 1945)

was the Chief SS doctor (SS-Standortarzt) at the Auschwitz concentration camp from September 1942 to January 1945. Thus, Wirths had formal responsibility for everything undertaken by the nearly 20 SS doctors (including Josef MengeleHorst Schumann and Carl Clauberg) who worked in the medical sections of Auschwitz between 1942–1945.


Eduard Wirths, however, became an ardent Nazi while studying medicine at the University of Würzburg (1930–35). He joined the Nazi Partyand the SA in June 1933 and applied for admission into the SS in 1934. He entered the Waffen SS in 1939, saw action in Norway and the Russian Front and was classified as medically unfit for combat duty in the spring of 1942 after a heart-attack. Wirths then chose to undertake special training for Department leaders in Dachau Concentration Camp and served as chief SS doctor in Neuengamme concentration campduring July 1942. Coincidentally, in 1942 Josef Mengele was also wounded at the Russian Front, pronounced medically unfit for combat, promoted to the rank of SS-Hauptsturmführer before being assigned to Auschwitz.

Auschwitz (1942-45)

Dr. Wirths was promoted to SS Hauptsturmführer (captain) and appointed as chief doctor at Auschwitz in September 1942. He was appointed on the basis of his reputation as a competent doctor and committed Nazi who would be capable of stopping the typhus epidemics that had increasingly affected SS personnel at Auschwitz (an effort in which he was somewhat successful).

At Auschwitz, Wirths was known to be protective of prisoner doctors and other prisoners doing medical work, to have improved conditions on the medical blocks and was remembered favourably by most prisoner doctors and other inmates who had contact with him. At the same time, Wirths in recommending Dr. Josef Mengele for promotion in August 1944, was able to speak of Mengele's "open, honest, firm … [and] absolutely dependable" character and "magnificent" intellectual and physical talents; of the "discretion, perseverance, and energy with which he has fulfilled every task … and … shown himself equal to every situation"; of his "valuable contribution to anthropological science by making use of the scientific materials available to him"; of his "absolute ideological firmness" and "faultless conduct [as] an SS officer" ; and of such personal qualities as "free, unrestrained, persuasive, and lively" discourse that rendered him "especially dear to his comrades." (from "Beurteilung des SS Hauptsturmführers (R) Dr. Josef Mengele," 19 August 1949 (Berlin Document Center: Mengele).

Thus, the 'kind,' 'decent' Wirths (as some inmates described him) became adept at combining bureaucratic skill and passionate Nazi ideology with a quality of correctness that allowed him to protect 'useful' inmates while ensuring that his organizational loyalty to the SS was always irreproachable. Rudolf Höss, the commandant of Auschwitz between 1940 and December 1943 is said to have held Wirths in particularly high regard. He is said to have remarked of Wirths that "During my 10 years of service in concentration-camp affairs, I have never encountered a better one." (Lifton: p. 386)

Prisoner experimentation

Wirths was involved in ordering arbitrary and pseudo-scientific medical experimentation, particularly in gynecological and typhus-related experimental tests that directly led to prisoner fatalities. Wirths’s primary research concerned pre-cancerous growths of the cervix. Dr. Wirths was also interested in the sterilization of women, by removing their ovaries through surgery or radiation. It is generally acknowledged that he himself never directly participated in such experiments but delegated their conduct to subordinates. Dr. E.W.J. Pearce, an Associate Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Truman Medical Center has made the following observation regarding Wirths' medical experiments: ". . . Wirths, without consent, photographed the cervices of women prisoners, then amputated the pictured cervices, and sent both photographs and specimens for study to Dr. Hinselmann of Berlin. Hinselmann was the physician who developed colposcopy. Dr. Wirths' intent was "scientific study" regardless of the presence or absence of cervical lesions in the studied population. His behavior was legal under the Nazi system, as the women prisoners were considered test animals, but is now considered highly unethical.

Selection of prisoners

Importantly, Wirths also asserted medical control of selections at the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp, which, prior to spring 1943, had been conducted by the camp commander and his subordinates. Wirths insisted upon taking his own personal turn in performing selections, which he could have deferred to physician subordinates if he had so desired. Despite his role as "organizer-in-chief" of selections, Wirths was known to have viewed all deaths at Auschwitz as "natural" deaths, not as the products of direct killing or the gas chambers (see Lifton p. 392). Witness testimony given at the Trial of Adolf Eichmann provided a useful insight into how the SS approached the issue of how to record the deaths of Auschwitz prisoners (this did not include those who had been immediately selected for gassing- their admission was simply not recorded in the death registers). Those who died while imprisoned at Auschwitz were always recorded as having died from natural causes and never from being executed or murdered- see The Trial of Adolf Eichmann, Session 70 (Part 2 of 6).

Eduard Wirths was promoted to SS Sturmbannführer (major) in September 1944.

Capture and suicide

Wirths was captured by the allies at the end of the war and held in custody by British forces. Later, on 20 September 1945, knowing that he would surely face trial for numerous war crimes, Wirths committed suicide by hanging.

Summary of criminal career

Robert Jay Lifton has noted that ". . . Wirths was significantly immersed in Nazi ideology in three crucial spheres: the claim of revitalizing the German race and Volk; the biomedical path to that revitalization via purification of genes and race; and the focus on the Jews as a threat to this renewal, to the immediate and long-term "health" of the Germanic race. While Wirths did not absolutize these convictions in the manner of a Mengele — they were in him combined with a strong current of medical humanism — his commitment to the Nazi cause was probably no less strong . . . (p. 412)".

Perhaps illustrative of Wirths' commitment to medical 'leadership' was his tendency while at Auschwitz to drive about in a car flying a Red Cross flag as well as his enthusiasm for acting as a marriage counselor and personal adviser to other SS personnel. According to Helgard Kramer, Wirths ". . . first seized on a career as a military doctor and officer in the German elite troops of the SS, because he desperately wanted to become a member of the upper class; eventually to provide his future wife with a "decent marriage." To reach that goal he had to become a 'tough man'. . .".


  • September 4, 1909 – September 20, 1945

Franz Lucas~War Criminal


Dr. Franz Bernhard Lucas 

(b. Sept. 15, 1911 in Osnabrück, Germany , d. December 7, 1994 inElmshorn, Germany ) was a German concentration camp doctor and SS Obersturmführer who served at Auschwitz concentration camp during the same period of time as Josef Mengele. Lucas expressed reluctance to perform selections on the ramp at Auschwitz and as deemed to be too compassionate towards the concentration camp inmates

In 1964 Lucas voluntarily accompanied an entourage of 16 West German lawyers and a judge from the Frankfurt Auschwitz war-crimes trial (1963–1964). They had made a fact finding trip to Poland to check the veracity of testimony given at the trial of 21 former Auschwitz concentration camp personnel. According to Lucas "It was my duty to come. Everyone who has the opportunity should come here and see what racism can lead to.


  • Sept. 15, 1911~ December 7, 1994

Hans Wilhelm König

Hans Wilhelm König was an SS doctor assigned to the Auschwitz Concentration Camp during World War II. König was a medical service officer who often observed the experiments of Josef Mengele, reporting to various medical firms and authorities in Nazi Germany.

König joined the Allgemeine-SS in the mid to late 1930s, converting over to the Waffen-SS once World War II began. There are no records of König ever having served in combat, and the first significant mention of him in Nazi records occurred in September 1944 when he was assigned to Auschwitz

Initially, König worked at the main camp hospital at Auschwitz I. Here, he was known for experimenting with electro-shock therapy on male cap inmates. He soon received an internal camp transfer, and was next assigned to the Birkenau camp where he became a medical liaison to Josef Mengele 

In her post-war memoirs, Eva Mozes Kor gives specific mention of König, specifying that he was often with Mengele during the latter's experimentation on twins.

Carl Clauberg~War Criminal

Carl Clauberg 

(September 28, 1898 – August 9, 1957)

was a German medical doctor who conducted medical experiments on human beings in Nazi concentration camps during World War II. He worked with Horst Schumann in X-ray sterilizationexperiments at Auschwitz concentration camp.


Carl Clauberg was born in 1898 in Wupperhof (now part of Solingen), Rhine Province, into a family of craftsmen. During the First World War he served as an infantryman. After the war he studied medicine and eventually reached the rank of chief doctor in the University gynaecological clinic in Kiel. He joined the Nazi party in 1933 and later on was appointed professor of gynaecology at the University of Königsberg. He received the rank of SS-Gruppenführer of the Reserve.

In 1942 he approached Heinrich Himmler and asked him to give him an opportunity tosterilize women en masse for his experiments. Himmler agreed and Clauberg moved to Auschwitz concentration camp in December 1942. Part of the Block number 10 in the main camp became his laboratory. Clauberg looked for an easy and cheap way to sterilize women. He injected liquid acid into their uteruses - without anesthetics. Most of his test subjects were Jewish or Roma women who suffered permanent damage and serious infections. Damaged ovaries were then removed and sent toBerlin for additional research. Sometimes subjects were bombarded with X-rays. Some of the subjects died because of the tests and others were killed so they could be autopsied. Estimates of those who survived but were sterilized are around 700.

When the Red Army approached the camp, Clauberg moved to Ravensbrück concentration camp to continue his experiments. Soviet troops captured him there in 1945.

After the war in 1948 Clauberg was put on trial in the Soviet Union and received 25 years. Seven years later he was released due to arrangement of exchange ofprisoners of war between Soviet Union and West Germany and returned to West Germany, where he boasted of his "scientific achievements". After groups of survivors protested, Clauberg was soon arrested in 1955 and was put on trial. He died of a heart attack in his cell before the trial could start.


  • September 28, 1898 – August 9, 1957

Josef Klehr~War Criminal

Josef Klehr 

(October 17, 1904 in LangenauUpper Silesia - August 23, 1988

inLeiferde) was an SS-Oberscharführer, supervisor in several Nazi concentration camps and head of the SS disinfection commando at Auschwitz concentration camp.


Klehr was born as the son of a teacher. After attending the Volksschule in Wohlauuntil 1918 he got an apprenticeship with a cabinet maker, passing the exam in 1921 that allowed him to do it by trade] As of 1934 he worked as a night porter in a community home, then subsequently as a nurse in a sanatorium. From 1938 he was assistant sergeant at Wohlau prison.

Klehr was a member of the Nazi Party and Allgemeine SS as of 1932. He participated in military exercises with the Wehrmacht and received training to become a medic. Shortly before the beginning of the war he was drafted into theWaffen-SS. In August 1939 he was transferred to Buchenwald concentration camp as a guard, then to Dachau concentration camp as a medical orderly a year later.In January, 1941 he was promoted to SS-Unterscharführer and transferred to Auschwitz, working as a medical orderly in the prisoners' infirmary.

Klehr was renowned for killing by phenol injections into the heart, something he essentially took over as of some time in 1942. He devised ways to optimise the speed of the killing process, such as experimenting with the positioning of prisoners before their injection. Klehr occasionally conducted selections himself, and when he was informed that the camp doctor was unavailable, stated immediately, "Today I am the camp doctor.” Due to various descriptions of him standing against a background of corpses "wearing either a white coat or “a pink-rubber apron and rubber gloves” and “holding a 20-cc hypodermic with a long needle” in his hands, Klehr has been described as the "ultimate caricature of the omnipotent Auschwitz doctor."

In 1943 Klehr became head of the disinfection squad (Desinfektionskommando). As a handler of Zyklon B his tasks included not only delousing living quarters and clothes, but direct involvement in the mass gassing of prisoners. Klehr was also one of those responsible for inserting the gas. He was present during selections where those incapable of working were sent to the gas chambers, and drew up a schedule as to who under him was to insert the Zyklon B.

On April 20, 1943 Klehr was awarded the War Merit Cross second class with swords. He was transferred to the Gleiwitz subcamp in 1944 where he was head of the prisoners' hospital and was medically responsible for Glewitz camps I to IV.

After the war

Upon the evacuation of Auschwitz Klehr guarded prisoners being transported to Gross-Rosen concentration camp, after which he was taken under command by an SS combat unit. In the beginning of May 1945 he was taken prisoner in Austria by Americans and was held until 1948. He returned to his family in Braunschweig and resumed work as a cabinet maker. In April 1960 the Frankfurt prosecutor's office issued an arrest warrant which was executed in September after Klehr's whereabouts was determined. On August 19, 1965 the court convicted him of murder in at least 475 cases, assistance in the joint murder of at least 2730 cases, and sentenced him to life imprisonment with an additional 15 years. The witness Glowacki testified in court that Klehr killed the women who survived the massacre after the alleged uprising at the Budy female subcamp by phenol injection.

While in prison, Klehr was interviewed by journalist and film-maker Ebbo Demant. When Demant brings up Holocaust denial, Klehr says:

“ Jews never gassed? No? Yes, I have already been asked about that. ...Three elderly ladies come to visit us here. That is such an official society. They always want to support us a little bit, to give us a present on our birthdays, and so on, and one of them asked me once if people were gassed in Auschwitz? I said - I will tell you openly and honestly, but if it were someone else, I would have answered that I did not know. But because it is you, I will tell you precisely, that people were gassed. And anyone who maintains that there are no gassing....Yes, I don't understand him, he must be crazy or on the wrong.... When you are three, four years in Auschwitz and experienced everything, then I cannot get myself to lie about it and say that no gassings were ever conducted. ”

—Josef Klehr, "Auschwitz-"Direkt von der Rampe weg..."

On January 25, 1988, Klehr's sentence was suspended due to unfitness for custody (Vollzugsuntauglichkeit), and on June 10 he was ordered to serve the remainder on probation. After seven months of freedom, Klehr died at the age of 83.


  • October 17, 1904~ August 23, 1988

Willi Schatz

Willi Schatz 

(b. February 1, 1905 HannoverGermany - d. February 17, 1985 Hannover,Germany) was a Nazi SS-Obersturmführer (Lieutenant) as a SS-KZ Zahnarzt (Concentration Camp Dentist) who served in Auschwitz and Neuengamme.

World War II

In the fall 1943 Schatz graduated from one of the SS-Medizinischen Akademie (Medical Academies) in Graz as a SS-Untersturmführer and was used in the SS-Hauptquartier (Headquarters) in Oranienburg. From January 20, 1944 until the fall of 1944 he became the second in charge by his superior, SS-KZ Zahnarzt Willi Frank at Auschwitz. He was then transferred to Neuengamme where he served until the war's end in the same function. In 1945 he was promoted again to SS-Obersturmführer.

Post War

At the end of the war he fell in British captivity from which he was dismissed in January 1946. Soon after he opened a dental practice in Hanover.

Frankfurt Auschwitz Trials

Schatz was arrested in 1959 and stood trial for his crimes in the camps before the Assize Court in Frankfurt am Main which became known as the Frankfurt Auschwitz Trials. He was accused of having selected prisoners at Auschwitz which he denied that he took part of. Since this ultimately could not be proved beyond reasonable doubt, he was acquitted on August 20, 1965.

  • February 1, 1905~ February 17, 1985

Viktor Capesius

Viktor Capesius 

(b. February 7, 1907 ReußmarktTransylvania (Romania) - d. March 20, 1985 GöppingenGermany) was a Nazi SS-Sturmbannführer (Major) as a KZ-Apotheker (concentration camp pharmacist) who served in Dachau from 1943-1944 and in Auschwitz from 1944-1945.

After the start of World War II in 1939, Capesius joined the Romanian army and rose to the rank of captain while serving at a military hospital's pharmacy.

As an ethnic German, Capesius soon moved to the Waffen-SS after Romania joined the Axis powers in 1940. Followed by his training at the SS-Zentrale Sanitäranlage (Central Sanitary Facility) in Warsaw, he was sent to Dachau Concentration Camp in September of 1943 to February 1944. Capesius was then sent in February 1944 to Auschwitz Concentration Camp, where he remained until the camp was evacuated in January 1945 as the KZ-Apotheker (Camp Pharmacist)

Capesius worked closely with Josef Mengele and together they were involved in the selection of inmates for the gas chamber[3]. He had risen to the rank of SS-Sturmbannführer while at the camp and was in charge of using chemicals such as Phenol and Zyklon B as a means to liquidate the Jews.

Post War

After the liberation of the camp, he went into hiding in Schleswig-Holstein and fell into British captivity, from which he was discharged after one year. He then began at the Technical University in Stuttgart to study electrical engineering. During a visit to Munich, Capesius was recognized in 1946 by a former Auschwitz prisoner. He was then arrested by American military police and was in the internment camps of Dachau and Ludwigsburg. Since Capesius was part of the competent, U.S. authorities approved that there was no crime related and he was released from internment in August 1947 and worked initially in a Stuttgart pharmacy as an employee. In October 1950 he opened in Göppingen a pharmacy and, additionally, a beauty shop in Reutlingen.

Frankfurt Auschwitz Trials

In Göppingen, Capesius was arrested in early December 1959 and was remanded in custody until 1965. On August 20, 1965 he became part of the Frankfurt Auschwitz Trials by the Landgericht Frankfurt am Main Community for aiding and abetting the murder of at least four cases of 2,000 people and convicted to nine years in prison. Capesius served his time and was released from prison in January 1968. He attended, on the day of his dismissal, a city tour and was greeted with applause.


Capesius lived the remainder of his years penniless and was a clerk for his wife's beauty shop. Capesius died on March 20, 1985 from natural causes

  • February 7, 1907~March 20, 1985

Hans Münch

Hans-Wilhelm Münch 


was a German citizen and Nazi Party member who, during World War II, worked as a SS physician at the Auschwitz concentration camp in Nazi occupied Poland from 1943 to 1945. He was the only person acquitted of war crimes at the 1947Auschwitz trials in Kraków. Later on, he returned to Germany and worked as a practising physician in Roßhaupten in Bavaria.


In June 1943, he was recruited as a scientist by the Waffen-SS and was sent to the Hygiene Institute of the Waffen SS in Raisko, about four km from the main camp at Auschwitz. Münch worked alongside the infamous Josef Mengele, who was the same age and also came from Bavaria. Münch continued the bacteriological research he was known for before the war, as well as making occasional inspections of the camps and the prisoners. In summer 1944, he was promoted to SS-Untersturmführer (second lieutenant).

Along with other doctors, Münch was expected to participate in the "selections" at the ramp of Auschwitz-Birkenau, to decide which of the incoming Jewish women, men, and children could work, which would be experimented on, and which would be put to death in the gas chambers. He found this abhorrent and refused to take part; this was confirmed by witnesses' testimony at his trial. The book on SS physicians of Auschwitz by Robert Jay Liftons (1986) mentions Münch as the only physician whose commitment to the Hippocratic oathproved stronger than that to the SS.

While Münch did conduct human experiments, these were often elaborate farces intended to protect inmates, as experiment subjects who were no longer useful were usually killed. Allegedly, Münch's last act before the camp was abandoned was to provide inmate Dr Louis Micheels with a revolver to assist his escape.

After the evacuation of Auschwitz in 1945, Münch spent three months at the Dachau concentration camp near Munich.

Trial in Poland

After the war in 1945, Münch was arrested in a US internment camp after being identified as an Auschwitz physician. He was delivered as a prisoner to Poland in 1946 to stand trial in Kraków.

He was specifically accused of injecting inmates with malaria-infected blood, and with a serum that caused rheumatism; however, many former prisoners testified in support of Münch in their witness speeches. The court acquitted him on December 22, 1947, "not only because he did not commit any crime of harm against the camp prisoners, but because he had a benevolent attitude toward them and helped them, while he had to carry the responsibility. He did this independently from the nationality, race-and-religious origin and political conviction of the prisoners." The court's acquittal was based, amongst other things, on his strict refusal to participate in the selections. Of the 41 Auschwitz staff tried in Kraków, only Münch was acquitted. He was called the 'Good Man of Auschwitz', who had saved prisoners from death in the gas chambers.

Later life

He took over a country doctor's practice in Roßhaupten in Ostallgäu, Bavaria.

In 1964, Münch testified in the first Auschwitz Trial in Frankfurt on Main and in the following trials, he was called on for his expert opinion.

In the Federal Republic of Germany, Münch took part in discussion meetings and commemoration ceremonies. He was appreciated for having saved many Auschwitz prisoners at the risk of his own life. In 1995, on the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, he made a journey back to the concentration camp. Münch was invited by Eva Mozes Kor, a survivor of Josef Mengele's experiments on twins. Münch and Kor signed public declarations regarding what had happened there and declaring that such a thing should never be allowed to happen again.

Münch has also commented on Holocaust denial. In an interview made by German filmmaker Bernhard Frankfurter, Frankfurter asks about the negationist claim that Auschwitz was a hoax, to which Münch wearily responds:

When someone says that Auschwitz is a lie, that it is a hoax, I feel hesitation to say much to him. I say, the facts are so firmly determined, that one cannot have any doubt at all, and I stop talking to that person because there is no use. One knows that anyone who clings to such things, which are published somewhere, is a malevolent person who has some personal interest to want to bury in silence things that cannot be buried in silence. —Exchange between Münch and Frankfurter.

During his final years, Münch lived in the Allgäu region, by Forggen Lake, with a view on the Neuschwanstein Castle. He died at 90 in 2001.


  • 1911–2001

Adolf Theuer

Adolf Theuer (sometimes given as Teuer)

(born on 20 September 1920 in Henneborg-Bolatitz, today borough of Borová, BolaticeOpava District, died on 23 April 1947 in Opava) was an SS-Unterscharführer at Auschwitz concentration camp. He was executed after the war as a war criminal.

Previously a bricklayer by trade, Theuer's SS career began when he was deployed to Auschwitz in 1940 at the rank of SS-Rottenführer. On the 1 August 1941 he was promoted to SS-Unterscharführer. He served as an SDG or Sanitätsdienstgefreiter; a medical orderly as part of the Sanitätswesen, one of the five concentration camp departments involved in running such a facility. He was also a member of theDesinfektionskommando (disinfection squad), the unit of SS medics involved in the mass gassing of prisoners. One of Theuer's responsibilities was inserting the Zyklon B into the gas chamber, a task shared by other SS orderlies such as SS-Unterscharführer Hans Koch and SS-Oberscharführer Josef Klehr. During the Frankfurt Auschwitz Trials, Klehr, the chief of the Desinfektionskommando, testified that Theuer explained to him that he would insert the gas when ordered to do so by the accompanying SS doctor.

SS-Unterscharführer Oswald Kaduk recalled an incident when Theuer, his fellow countryman, was reluctant to insert the gas. Kaduk stated that:

"...I have even seen SS men who were supposed to be involved in gassing operations cry. And to them, the then doctor, Dr. Mengele said, 'You have to do it'. He said... I can remember Theuer well. I knew him from... was my fellow countryman, been a young man. And he said, 'You have to do it.' He did it, with tears in his eyes. He inserted it and immediately shut the hatch. I was there." —Oswald Kaduk, "Auschwitz, Stimmen."

Theuer remained at the camp until its evacuation in January 1945, when he was subsequently deployed in Ohrdruf concentration camp, a subcamp of Buchenwald concentration camp.

Although Theuer did not torture prisoners, he was still known in the camp as a butcher.[5] After the war he was put on trial along with SS overseer Sophie Hanel in Prague; both were sentenced to death. Theuer was hanged on 23 April 1947.


  • 20 September 1920 ~ 23 April 1947

Wilhelm Boger

Wilhelm Friedrich Boger 

(December 19, 1906 Zuffenhausen - April 3, 1977 

Bietigheim-Bissingen) known as “The Tiger of Auschwitz” was a German police commissioner andconcentration camp overseer. He was infamous for his appalling crimes at Auschwitz, together with his Austrian superior officer, the Gestapo chief Maximilian Grabner.

t the outbreak of the Second World War he was transferred to the state police office atZichenau. He was placed in charge of setting up and supervising the border police station inOstrolenka three weeks later. In 1940, he joined the 2nd SS and Police Engineer reserve unit based in Dresden, from where he was dispatched to the front and subsequently wounded in 1942. Nine months later, he was transferred to Auschwitz, serving as an Untersturmführer (Second Lieutenant) in the Auschwitz political department. The Political Department was the representative of the RSHA in the camp and its chief responsibilities were to keep files on individual prisoners, the reception of prisoners, maintaining the security of the camp, combating internal resistance and conducting interrogations.


Wilhelm Boger invented the "Boger swing”, an instrument of torture: "it was a meter-long iron bar suspended by chains hung from the ceiling", said Frau Braun. We could never have imagined what it was for until she described it, in a monotone spoken as by rote, its details recalled and rehearsed repeatedly during her months bearing witness in Frankfurt.

" A prisoner would be brought in for “questioning,” stripped naked and bent over the bar, wrists manacled to ankles. A guard at one side would :shove him – or her — off across the chamber in a long, slow arc, while Boger would ask “questions,” at first quietly, then barking them out, and :at the last bellowing. At each return, another guard armed with a crowbar would smash the victim across the buttocks. As the swinging went on and :on, and the wailing victim fainted, was revived only to faint howling again, the blows continued —until only a mass of bleeding pulp hung before :their eyes. Most perished from the ordeal; some sooner, some later; in the end a sack of  bones and flayed flesh and fat was swept along :the shambles of that concrete floor to be dragged away".

Ursula Boger, Wilhelm Boger's Granddaughter, didn't find out until her college years that she was related to him and learned of his evil:

"He is the man who killed a little boy with an apple who came in on a transport to Auschwitz, by smashing his head against a wall until he was dead, and then picked up and ate that apple." Post War

His atrocious crimes in the Political Department lasted until the liberation of Auschwitz, in January 1945. Thereafter on the run for five months, he was eventually detained in 1946 and should have been extradited to Poland for trial, but he managed to escape later that same year. In 1948, he was living in Crailsheim and two years later, he had a job at an airplane factory in Stuttgart.

Frankfurt Auschwitz Trials

In 1959 he was arrested again and this time was charged for the war crimes he committed at Auschwitz. On August 20, 1965 he became part of the Frankfurt Auschwitz Trials by the Landgericht Frankfurt am Main Community for aiding and abetting the murder of Jews After a series of eyewitness' testimonies he was finally sentenced to life imprisonment.

Boger ended his days a broken old man begging to see his grandchildren in prison and being refused by all his offspring.


He died in the prison at Bietigheim-BissingenBaden-WurttembergGermany on April 3, 1977, 19 years after his arrest and trial.

  • December 19, 1906~April 3, 1977

Josef Kollmer

osef Kollmer 

(February 26, 1901 – January 28, 1948)

was an SS-Obersturmführer atAuschwitz. He was prosecuted at the Auschwitz Trial.

Born in HändlernBavaria, Kollmer was a farmer by trade. He became a member of the SS on January 1, 1935 after having previously spent several years in the German police force. He joined the Nazi party in May 1937. In October 1941 he was drafted into the Waffen-SS and was assigned to Auschwitz, where he commanded various guard companies until October 1943. He then temporarily transferred to Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp, but returned to Auschwitz in May 1944. Initially he commanded the guard company at Auschwitz main camp, then later the one at Monowitz concentration camp from August to October 1944. During his time at Auschwitz, Kollmer participated in the extermination of Jews in the Birkenau gas chambers, and carried out executions against the shooting wall between blocks 10 and 11 and at the Buna factory.

Kollmer was tried by the Supreme National Tribunal at the Auschwitz Trial in Kraków and was sentenced to death. His sentence was carried out by hanging in Montelupich Prison, Kraków.


  • February 26, 1901 – January 28, 1948

Josef Erber

Josef Erber (birth name: Josef Houstek) was an SS-Oberscharführer at Auschwitz concentration camp. He was in charge of thecrematoria.

Erber is mentioned several times in the account of Sonderkommando member Filip Müller, and is noted to have been among the most notoriously cruel of the SS personnel.

After serving at Auschwitz, in 1944, Josef Houstek changed his name to Josef Erber.


Perry Broad

Perry Broad, also Pery Broad 

(April 25, 1921 - November 28, 1993)

was a Brazilian Non-commissioned officer SS-Unterscharführer, active at Auschwitz from April 1942 - 1945 as a translator and stenographer at the Auschwitz headquarters.

Perry Broad, born in Rio de Janeiro in 1921, came to Berlin with his mother at the age of five. He studied at the Technical High School in Berlin and joined the "Waffen SS" in 1941 as a foreigner. Detached on duty to Auschwitz, he asked for transposition to the "Politische Abteilung" where he conducted interrogations. He remained in Auschwitz till the dissolution of the camp in early 1945 and was captured by British armed forces. Being P.O.W., he voluntarily wrote a report about his experiences in Auschwitz.

Post War

Released in 1947, he again was arrested 12 years later, freed in December 1960 after the payment of 50.000 DM as surety and again arrested in November 1964 as defendant in theFrankfurt Auschwitz Trials. There his supervision during the selections on the Birkenau ramp was proven against him, also he had participated in interrogations, tortures and executions. Thus, he was condemned to four years in 1965.

  • April 25, 1921 - November 28, 1993


In March 1942, the first women's department was established in Auschwitz I by dividing the former mens's camp with a brick wall two metres high. The first women were 999 inmates of ravensbrück concentration camp.

On August 16, 1942, the women's camp in Auschwitz I was dissolved and transferred to Birkenau. During this time, the first mass extermination of female prisoners took place: 4.000 out of 12.000 female inmates were still gassed in Auschwitz I, the rest was brought to Birkenau.

The first women's camp in Birkenau was soon overcrowded, thus it had to be supplemented by an additional part of the men's camp. Again in 1944, more parts of the camp were added to the women's camp..

Since there were only few German political prisoners in Birkenau, their share of camp officials was rather low. The majority of camp officials was recruited by German prostitutes. Besides, there was a small group of Jewish camp prominents, such as some Slovak Jews, who were an absolute exception, because they were seen as "inferior people" - together with gypsies and slavs. Usually, their place in the social camp hierarchy was at the bottom.

Women suffered more than male inmates from the jam of people in the barracks, from the completely insufficient sanitary equipments, the endless roll-calls and the tortures of the SS-guards.

Many of the female guards were just as brutal and cruel as their male collegues. SS-Men and Women were even competing in the brutality against the prisoners. One of the most feared women was the women's camp "Oberaufseherin" Maria Mandel, who also participated in selections.

Women lost their shape faster than men and therefore reached more quickly the condition of the so-called "Muselmann". The average life expectancy for women was generally twice as short as for men.

The expectation of life was a bit higher, when female inmates were able to work in "good commandos", such as kitchen, secretaries in the political section, sewing works, serving the family of the commander etc.. All other women had to work as hard as men.

German prostitutes could also work in the camp whorehouse, which was located on the first floor of block 24 in Auschwitz I and which had been established for specially "honoured", usually "Aryan" prisoners. Some SS-officials ignored all prohibitions of the racial laws and took up relationships with female prisoners, who - to a certain extend - could benefit a while from such relations. But mostly, SS-guards would not hesitate to kill their lover if she endangered him.

Women were also used as testmodels for pseudo-medical tests. The most cruel SS-doctors were Dr. Schumann , who sterilized women with X-rays, Dr. Clauberg who sterilized with chemical preparations, who artificially fertilized women and castrated men and DDr. Mengele who undertook the so-called "Zwillingsforschung" (experiments with twins), racial research with gypsies and Lilliputians.

Female Guards

Of the 55,000 guards who served in Nazi concentration camps, about 3,700 were women. In 1942, the first female guards arrived at Auschwitz and Majdanek from Ravensbrück. The year after, the Nazis began conscripting women because of a guard shortage.

The German title for this position, Aufseherin (plural Aufseherinnen) means female overseer orattendant.

Female guards were generally low class to middle class and had no work experience; their professional background varied: one source mentions former matrons, hairdressers, streetcar ticket-takers, opera singers, or retired teachers. Volunteers were recruited by ads in German newspapers asking for women to show their love for the Reich and join the SS-Gefolge ("SS-Retinue," an SS support and service organisation for women). Additionally, some were conscripted based on data in their SS files. The League of German Girls acted as a vehicle of indoctrination for many of the women. One head female overseer, Helga Hegel, referred to her female guards as "SS" women at a post-war hearing. She placed the SS in quotes because the women were not official members of the SS, but many of them belonged to theWaffen-SS. In fact, fewer than twenty women ever served as true SS members, mostly because Schutzstaffel membership was indeed closed to women. The relatively low number of female guards who belonged to the Allgemeine-SS or SS-Gefolge served in the camps. Other women, such as Therese Brandl and Irmtraut Sell, belonged to the Totenkopf ("Death's Head") units.

At first, new recruits were trained at Lichtenburg Germany1938 and after 1939, at the Ravensbrück camp near Berlin. When the war broke out, the Nazis built other camps in PolandFrance, the NetherlandsBelgium as well as other countries they occupied. The training of the female guards was similar to that of their male counterparts: The women attended classes which ranged from four weeks to half a year, headed by the head wardresses - however, near the end of the war little, if any, training was given to fresh recruits. Court records cite former SS member Hertha Ehlert, who served at RavensbruckMajdanekLublin, Auschwitz, and Bergen Belsen, as describing her training as "physically and emotionally demanding" when questioned at the Belsen Trial. According to her, the trainees were told about the corruption of the Weimar Republic, how to punish prisoners, and how to look out for sabotage and work slowdowns. The same sources claim Dorothea Binz, head training overseer at Ravensbruck after 1942, trained her female students in the finer points of "malicious pleasure" (Schadenfreude or sadism).

Female guards were collectively known by the rank of SS-Helferin (German: "Female SS Helper") and could hold positional titles equivalent to regular Ranks and insignia of the Schutzstaffel / SS ranks. Such positions were known as Rapportführerin "Report Leader",Erstaufseherin, "First Guard", Lagerführerin, "Camp Leader" and Oberaufseherin the "Senior Overseer". The highest position ever attained by a woman was Chef Oberaufseherin, "Chief Senior Overseer" such as Luise Brunner and Anna Klein. In the Nazi command structure, no female guard could ever give orders to a male one since, by design, the rank of SS-Helferin was below all male SS ranks and women were not recognized as regular SS members but only auxiliaries.

No German Concentration Camp ever was run by a female commandant. Ravensbrück, the only camp reserved for female inmates, was run mainly by male SS troopers, aided by a minority of female assistants.

[edit]Daily life

Relations between SS men and female guards are said to have existed in many of the camps, and Heinrich Himmler had told the SS men to regard the female guards as equals and comrades. At the relatively small Helmbrechts subcamp near Hof, Germany, the camp commandant, Doerr, openly pursued a sexual relationship with the head female overseer Helga Hegel.

Corruption was another aspect of the female guard culture. Ilse Koch, known as "the bitch of Buchenwald", was the chief female guard at the Buchenwald camp, and at the same time married to the camp commandant, Karl Koch. Both were rumoured to have embezzled millions of Reichmarks, for which Karl Koch was convicted and executed by the Nazis a few weeks before Buchenwald was liberated by the U.S. Army; however, Ilse was cleared of guilt. On a side note, some sources speculate that she had had the witnesses in Buchenwald murdered.

Maria Mandel

Maria Mandel (also spelled Mandl)

(January 10, 1912 - January 24, 1948)

was an Austrian SS-Helferin infamous for her key role in The Holocaust as a top-ranking official at the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp where she is believed to have been directly responsible for the deaths of over 500,000 female prisoners.

After the Austrian Anschluss to Nazi Germany she moved to Munich, and on 15 October 1938 joined the camp staff as an Aufseherin at Lichtenburg, an early Nazi concentration camp in theProvince of Saxony where she worked with fifty other SS women. On May 15, 1939 she along with other guards and prisoners were sent to the newly opened Ravensbrück concentration campnear Berlin. She quickly impressed her superiors and, after she had joined the Nazi Party on 1 April 1941, was elevated to the rank of a SS-Oberaufseherin in April 1942. She oversaw daily roll calls, assignments for Aufseherinnen and punishments such as beatings and floggings.

On October 7, 1942, Mandel was assigned to the Auschwitz II Birkenau camp in Poland where she succeeded Johanna Langefeld as SS-Lagerführerin, a female commandant under (male) SS-Kommandant Rudolf Höß. As a woman she could never outrank a man, but her control over both female prisoners and her female subordinates was absolute. The only man Mandel reported to was the commandant. She controlled all the female Auschwitz camps and female subcamps including at HindenburgLichtewerden, Budy and Raisko.

Mandel took a liking to Irma Grese, whom she promoted to head of the Hungarian women's camp at Birkenau. According to some accounts, Mandel often stood at the gate into Birkenau waiting for an inmate to turn and look at her: any who did were taken out of the lines and never heard from again. In the Auschwitz camps Mandel was known as "The Beast", and for the next two years she participated in selections for death and other documented abuses. She reportedly often chose so-called "pet" Jews for herself, keeping them from the gas chamber for a time until she tired of them, then sending them to their deaths. Mandel is also said to have enjoyed selecting children to be killed. She created the Women's Orchestra of Auschwitz to accompany roll calls, executions, selections, and transports. She signed orders sending an estimated half a million women and children to their deaths in the gas chambers at Auschwitz I and II. For her services rendered she was awarded the War Merit Cross 2nd class.

In November 1944, she was assigned to the Mühldorf subcamp of Dachau concentration camp, and Elisabeth Volkenrath became head of the crumbling Auschwitz empire of camps, which were liberated in early January 1945. In May 1945, Mandel fled from Mühldorf into the mountains of southern Bavaria to her birthplace of Münzkirchen, Austria.

Defendant Mandel at Kraków, 1947 Arrest and execution

The United States Army arrested Mandel on August 10, 1945. Interrogations reportedly revealed her to be highly intelligent and dedicated to her work in the camps. She was handed over to theRepublic of Poland in November 1946, and in November 1947 she was tried in a Kraków courtroom in the Auschwitz Trial and sentenced to death. Mandel was hanged on January 24, 1948 at the age of 36.


Irma Grese Beast of Auschwitz

A young girl without much prospects in Nazi Germany became known as "Beautiful Beast" in the death camps she helped run.


Irma Grese was one the most notorious of the female Nazi war criminals. She was one of the relatively small numbers of women who had worked in the concentration camps that was hanged for war crimes by the Allies.

SS-Aufseherin Irma Grese.....Irma Grese and Josef Kramer at Celle prison.

She became the youngest woman executed under British jurisdiction in the 20th century and was also the youngest of the concentration camp guards to be hanged.

Irma Grese was born in a small town named Wrechen; her father was a milker and her mother committed suicide, allegedly because of marital problems, when Irma was nine. A member of the female Hitler youth organization, Grese left school in 1938 by the age of 15, and in 1942, at age 18, volunteered for SS-Helferinnen (Female Helpers') training at the Ravensbrück concentration camp. She was later transferred to Auschwitz, as a Senior Supervisor and the second highest ranking woman at the camp, in charge of up to 30,000 Jewish female prisoners at any given time. She was in charge of Krema Three briefly, a large crematorium that burned thousands of executed camp residents. In her time there she was considered the cruelest of the guards. She carried a sidearm as did most guards but also a cellophane whip which she used often on exhausted prisoners. The inmates dubbed Grese, the youngest guard at the camp and a striking blue-eyed blonde, the "Beautiful Beast." At her trial it was testified that she set dogs loose on bound prisoners, chose who would go to the gas chamber, beat prisoners with every tool she had including a whip, and ordered the skinning of three inmates. Found in her barracks hut were the skins that she had had made into lamp shades. She and also became something of a sexual fanatic, taking several brief lovers including the camp commandant and the infamous physician Josef Mengele. At her trial it was implied that she seemed to derive sexual pleasure from acts of sadism.

She ended the war at the Bergen Belsen Death Camp, captured by British soldiers on April 17, 1945.

Her trail along with nearly fifty others was in front of a British Military Tribunal with six judges including Field Marshal Montgomery as final the appellate. While imprisoned she sang German folk ballads at night in her cell and was called "Stirb Nicht" or little singer. She plead not guilty and used the defense that she was just following orders. She testified that she regarded the inmates of the concentration camps as subhuman rubbish and saw nothing wrong in her wartime actions. After a fifty three day trial she was convicted of crimes committed at both Auschwitz and Belsen and sentenced to death by hanging. This was translated to her as "Tode durch den Strang", literally death by the rope.

Grese's subsequent appeal to Montgomery was quickly rejected. . Two American MP's Sgt O'Hare and Cpl Rick Smith were court marshaled for refusing to walk her to the gallows. The army hangman also refused to hang Grese and a civilian hangman had to be flown in from Britain for the task. She showed no remorse. She refused a hood and her final word to the executioner was "Snell", which is German for "Quick." At 12:01 on Dec 22, 1945, she was led to the gallows and hung. The hangman miscalculated the drop and Irma's neck didn't snap. She slowly suffocated as she fought the rope for three minutes and her body was removed after twenty.

Irma Grese, was hung in good company. Some thirty minutes apart Albert Pierrepoint, the British hangman who had more than 400 condemned criminals to his credit assisted by British Regimental Sergeant-Major O'Neill, hung Grese along with Elisabeth Volkenrath (a guard from Bergen-Belsen) and Juana Bormann (from Auschwitz). These women took to the gallows only hours behind the Commandant of Bergen-Belsen Josef Kramer.

Florence Nightingale's quote sums up the wartime career of Irma Grese, the worst female outlaw of that conflict. "What the horrors of war are, no one can imagine. They are not wounds and blood and fever, spotted and low, or dysentery, chronic and acute, cold and heat and famine. They are intoxication, drunken brutality, demoralization and disorder on the part of the inferior... jealousies, meanness, indifference, selfish brutality on the part of the superior."

Irma Grese - Convictions and Sentences (Original Documents)

 Medical appointments for Irma Grese

Irma Grese obituary

Irma Grese - medical appointments

Irma Grese - medical request to syphilis

The Good Life of the Auschwitz Guards

At first glance, the photographs seem innocuous enough. Men and women in uniform lie back in deckchairs, listen to accordion music, decorate a Christmas tree.

It seems like a carefree life - but the pictures were taken at the Auschwitz death camp at the height of the Holocaust.

The happy men and women are Nazi officials enjoying time off from the business of genocide, their images collected by Karl Hoecker, an adjutant to the camp commander.

His unique album of 116 photographs was found in Frankfurt in 1946 by a US intelligence officer, who kept it to himself for six decades before showing it to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum last year.

Museum archivist Rebecca Erbelding, who has helped to put album online, believes the very ordinariness of the scenes captured is what makes them so chilling.

 It's shocking because it's a reminder that they were human beings, that they weren't red-eyed monsters  Rebecca Erbelding
US Holocaust Memorial Museum "It shouldn't have surprised us that this was how they lived in Auschwitz, that this was how they unwound after a 'hard day's work'," she told the BBC News website.

"But I think it's shocking because it's a reminder that they were human beings, that they weren't red-eyed monsters, that they had pets and children and lives, and yet could do this to other people."

The find has significantly increased the number of photographs available to historians of Auschwitz-Birkenau before its liberation in January 1945.

Previously, only about 320 images were known, many of them in the so-called Auschwitz Album, which shows the arrival of Hungarian Jews at the camp in May 1944.

Hoecker's album includes the only known pictures of Dr Josef Mengele - notorious for the medical experiments he conducted on Auschwitz inmates - taken within the camp's confines.

Not a single prisoner appears in any of the images.

Gas chambers

Ms Erbelding says the album seems to have been created very much as a personal keepsake.

The photographs show SS officers but no Auschwitz prisoners

Many of the pictures were taken at Solahuette, a little-known SS resort near Auschwitz where the camp's guards were periodically sent as a reward for hard work.

Hoecker himself is a regular fixture, decorating a Christmas tree in one photograph, going hunting or playing with his dog in others.

A series of images dated 22 July 1944 shows him eating blueberries with a group of female SS auxiliaries, one of whom pretends to cry as she holds her now-empty bowl upside-down.

On that same day, the museum's researchers found, 150 prisoners, Jews and non-Jews, arrived on a transport to Auschwitz. The SS selected 21 men and 12 women for work and killed the rest in the gas chambers.

Another image shows Hoecker enjoying a sing-along with senior SS officers, identified by the museum as Dr Mengele, former Auschwitz Kommandant Rudolf Hoess, gas chamber supervisor Otto Moll and Birkenau Kommandant Josef Kramer.

'Innocent' claim

Despite Hoecker's apparent closeness to those in charge, he is a relatively little-known figure in Nazi history.

A page is devoted to Hoecker and SS women eating blueberries

After World War II, he went into banking and was only tracked down by Nazi hunters in 1961.

He faced charges at the Frankfurt Auschwitz Trial in 1963 but prosecutors were unable to find any witnesses or evidence directly linking him to the killings at Auschwitz.

Hoecker protested he was innocent, yet the photographs in his album show him socialising with those most closely involved. "It strains credulity to suggest he would have been unaware of their crimes," is the museum's verdict.

He was sentenced to seven years in prison and released on parole in 1970. He returned to his banking job and eventually died in Germany in 2000, aged 88.

Modern parallels

Dr Stephen Feinstein, director of the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at the University of Minnesota, said the photographs reveal the disconnect between the people and their actions.

 What is says to me is that anybody is capable of committing genocide under the right circumstances  Dr Stephen Feinstein

"These people were trying to have a normal life while they were killing people," he said.

"What it says to me is that anybody is capable of committing genocide under the right circumstances, and what we have to figure out is what makes that possible."

He draws a parallel between what happened in Nazi Germany and more recent events in Rwanda and Bosnia, where people who had lived side-by-side for years ended up killing each other.

He also sees an echo in the scandal at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, where American men and women "raised as good citizens" were guilty of abusing Iraqi prisoners in their charge.

Visitors' book

But Dr Robert Rozett, director of the libraries at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Centre in Israel, said this is not a surprise to those familiar with the history of the Holocaust.

Yad Vashem's own archives include a visitor's book kept by camp commandant Rudolf Hoess, where guests thank him for their lovely stay, he pointed out.

"What the pictures are is a very graphic visual illustration of what was going on there, and so are very important in helping us understand who the murderers were, that they often saw themselves as ordinary human beings.

"And in some ways they were - but they had an ideology of hate and engaged in mass murder.

"But they divorced themselves from that, would go home, listen to classical music, host their friends, have a good time."


For the time being, the US Holocaust Memorial Museum intends only to show the photographs online.

 We were concerned about how people would take the pictures  Rebecca Erbelding This means more people can access them, allows all the images from the double-sided pages to be displayed and has made the process much quicker than if they had been incorporated into the museum's physical collection, said Ms Erbelding.

"We were concerned about how people would take them because, if you take it out of context, it very much seems like a vacation album, of fun times he had," she said.

"We were very careful to include that context and it seems that most people are understanding the point we were trying to make - that the perpetrators were human beings and that it wasn't a nameless, faceless people who did this."

A lot of Holocaust survivors find the album itself and the fact it was ever created very offensive, she said, but even so "understand how important it is in terms of a reminder". 

Among those pictured socialising are notorious Auschwitz doctor Josef Mengele (second left), who experimented on prisoners, and officers who ran the death camps.

Hoecker, who claimed he did not know about the mass killing of Jews at Auschwitz, is seen decorating a Christmas tree only weeks before Russia's Red Army liberated the camp.

Historians say the images of SS officers enjoying themselves in their time off are not a surprise, given other documentary evidence - but are chilling nonetheless.


Holocaust Survivors and Remembrance Project:

"Forget You Not"™: Auschwitz-Birkenau

. An Historic Photographic
Documentation of the Extermination Process at Auschwitz-Birkenau:

An SS has the woman (whose hair is covered in the tradition of an Orthodox Jewish wife) with her infant child to join those being sent to the crematoria. We also can see a man that is standing between the columns missing his pants and one shoe. This was a common ocurrence in the overcrowded boxcars. On the left stand inmates in striped camp clothing. The main gate to Birkenau Camp under which the train pass is at the rear left of this historic photograph.


Photo Credit: Yad Vashem, The Auschwitz Album 




What Was Auschwitz?

Auschwitz, located in Oswiecim outside of Cracow, Poland, has become a symbol of the Holocaust. One of the main reasons that Nazi Germany established the camp there was because it was a central intersection of roads and railways. Before the Second World War, Jews living in Oswiecim, who were often artisans or merchants, constituted approximately half of this small town's population. After the Holocaust, it may be argued that Oswiecim will forever be overshadowed by Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest of the Nazi concentration camps and extermination centers.

Not only has Auschwitz become a symbol of the Holocaust due to its geographical size, but also because Jews were sent there from all over Europe to undergo selection and to be systematically murdered in gas chambers. In addition, we have many detailed testimonies of Holocaust survivors who survived the camp.

We say and write "Auschwitz," but we actually mean a torture center, a terror that we cannot possibly conceive, the essence of evil and horror. Yet, Auschwitz was not another planet, but a huge complex built by human beings to murder other human beings in the cruelest industrialized manner.

Auschwitz was surrounded by high electric barbed wire fences, which were guarded by SS soldiers armed with machine guns and rifles. Some Holocaust survivors have said that not only did the barbed-wire surrounding Auschwitz tremble and howl, but also the tortured earth itself moaned with the voices of the victims.

In March 1942 trains carrying Jews began arriving daily. Sometimes several trains would arrive on the same day, each carrying one thousand or more human beings coming from the ghettos of Eastern Europe, as well as from Western and Southern European countries.

What Happened at Auschwitz?

In March 1942 trains carrying Jews began arriving daily. Sometimes several trains would arrive on the same day, each carrying one thousand or more human beings coming from the ghettos of Eastern Europe, as well as from Western and Southern European countries.

Between 1.3-1.5 million people were murdered in the gas chambers of Auschwitz -- more than 90% were Jews. The other ten percent were Poles, Soviet Prisoners of War, Sinti Roma, Jehovah Witnesses, homosexuals and others. The vast majority of the victims --who came from both Western and Eastern Europe including Belgium, France, Greece, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, and other countries-- were unaware of their destination and of their fate. They were transported like animals in cattle-cars and arrived in a state of total collapse to the camp. Most of the people actually never really entered the camp, but just crossed it on the way to the gas chambers.

The dehumanized minority often became registered prisoners with shaved heads in striped uniforms. Jews chosen for slave labor were stripped of everything, including outward differentiation between male and female. Prisoners' personal identities were taken mainly by the act of tattooing their arms with numbers -- replacing their personal names.

How did prisoners endure such insurmountable conditions on a daily basis?

For example, Jack Oran, a Holocaust survivor, relates:

"Everyone worked so hard, got beaten up…and came back to the camp -- the exhaustion alone pushed him to the bunk to lie down and sleep throughout the night and get enough strength so that s/he might be able to do that again tomorrow. …In the morning, sixty percent of the six people [in the bunk] did not wake up. The other forty percent went over the pockets of the dead people to find a piece of bread…The hygienic condition was very, very poor in that period. I remember that I searched a dead body in the bunk and I found a piece of bread. That piece of bread was crawling with lice and you shook them off the bread and put it in your mouth and ate it. We all were crawling with lice. Taking a shower was not an option. To get out in the morning, to walk toward the barrack where there is water, running water &endash; you didn't want to walk through mud. If you walked through the mud you probably lost a shoe and then you had to go barefoot. So it would be damned if I do and damned if I don't. Those were the conditions."

Although the Nazis terrorized and dehumanized prisoners in Auschwitz, as well as in other concentration camps under their control, many Jews attempted to retain their dignity and humanity.

Even in unendurable conditions, people sought support, cooperation and friendship. For instance, Ovadiah Baruch, a young Jewish prisoner who was deported to Auschwitz from Greece, notes that the support of his friends helped him survive. He states:

"During the death marches [from Auschwitz] we were three friends, Yom Tov Eli, Michael and I. We were connected heart and soul. Throughout the whole time we were prisoners in Auschwitz we stayed in close contact….During the death marches, Michael developed dysentery. He was so weak that he could barely continue to walk, and he begged us to go on without him. Yom Tov Eli and I insisted that we would carry him and support him as best as we could."

Yad Vashem Archives




. .Selected for Crematoria

.Crematorium II can be seen in the back of this photograph.
Many of the Jews of this photograph will end up there after the quick selection to be killed.

Jews undergoing the selection process on the Birkenau arrival platform known as the "ramp."

In her postwar testimony, Olga Albogen, a Holocaust survivor, relates to her family's arrival in Auschwitz in the following way, "…We didn't even say goodbye to Mother and the little ones. We just had some food yet from home and I gave it to my mother and said, "We'll see you tonight." And that was it and I never saw them again. It was such a commotion there in Auschwitz… So many people…And when they emptied the wagons, thousands and thousands and trains kept on coming from all over Europe, not just Hungary. It was just unbelievable."

Entire families often arrived in Auschwitz, but soon after their arrival, they were brutally broken apart. In Auschwitz-Birkenau, Jews were thrown out of the cattle cars without their belongings and forced to make two separate lines, men and women/children. SS medical personnel, including the infamous Dr. Josef Mengele, conducted selections among these lines, sending most victims to the gas chambers where they were usually killed and burned on the same day. Mengele and his colleagues also conducted so-called "medical experiments" on human beings in the camp. --Yad Vashem Archives.

Mengele's Children: The Twins of Auschwitz

by Jennifer Rosenberg


.Dr. Mengele relaxing at Solahutte 
retreat outside of Auschwitz. The notorious doctor of Auschwitz, Josef Mengele, has become an enigma of the twentieth century. Mengele's handsome physical appearance, fastidious dress, and calm demeanor greatly contradicted his attraction to murder and gruesome experiments.

Mengele's seeming omnipresence at the ramp as well as his fascination with twins have incited images of a mad, evil monster. His ability to elude capture had increased his notoriety as well as given him a mystical and devious persona.

But in May 1943, Mengele entered Auschwitz as an educated, experienced, medical researcher. With funding for his experiments, he worked alongside some of the top medical researchers of the time. Anxious to make a name for himself, Mengele searched for the secrets of heredity. The Nazi ideal of the future would benefit from the help of genetics: if Aryan women could assuredly give birth to twins who were sure to be blond and blue eyed - then the future could be saved.

Mengele, as he learned while working for Professor Otmar Freiherr von Vershuer, believed that twins held these secrets. Auschwitz seemed the best location for such research because of the large number of available twins to use as specimens.

The Ramp

Mengele took his turn as the selector on the ramp, but unlike most of the other selectors, he arrived sober. With a small flick of his finger or riding crop, a person would either be sent to the left or to the right, to the gas chamber or to hard labor. Mengele would get very excited when finding twins. The other SS who helped unload the transports had been given special instructions to find twins, dwarfs, giants, or anyone else with a unique hereditary trait like a club foot or heterochromia (each eye a different color). Mengele's seeming omnipresence on the ramp stemmed not only from his selection duty, but his additional appearance when it was not his turn as selector to ensure twins would not be missed.


Renate and Rene Guttmann were subjected to injection and x-ray experiments by Josef Mengele.
(Courtesy of USHMM)
As the unsuspecting people were herded off the train and ordered into separate lines, SS would shout "Zwillinge!" ("twins!"). Parents were forced to make a quick decision. Unsure of their situation, already being separated from family members when forced to form lines, seeing barbed wire, smelling an unfamiliar stench - was it good or bad to be a twin?

Some parents did announce their twins. Some relatives, friends, or neighbors would announce the twins. Some mothers tried to hide their twins. The SS and Mengele would search through the surging ranks of people in search of twins and anyone with unusual traits. While many twins were either announced or discovered, some sets of twins were successfully hidden and walked with their mother into the gas chamber.

Which was the right decision - to announce or not to announce their twins? I don't think there necessarily was one. Approximately three thousand twins were pulled from the masses on the ramp, most of them children; only around two hundred survived.

When the twins were found, they were taken away from their parents.

Once the SS guard knew we were twins, Miriam and I were taken away from our mother, without any warning or explanation.

Our screams fell on deaf ears. I remember looking back and seeing my mother's arms stretched out in despair as we were led away by a soldier.

That was the last time I saw her.

As the twins were led away to be processed, their parents and family stayed on the ramp and went through selection. Occasionally, if the twins were very young Mengele would allow the mother to join her children in order for their health to be assured for the experiments.


After the twins had been taken from their parents, they were taken to the showers. Since they were "Mengele's children," they were treated differently than other prisoners. Besides the obvious, suffering through medical experiments, the twins were often allowed to keep their hair and allowed to keep their own clothes.

The twins were then tattooed. They were given a number from a special sequence. They were then taken to the twin's barracks where they were required to fill out a form. The form asked for a brief history and basic measurements such as age and height. Many of the twins were too young to fill the form out by themselves so the Zwillingsvater ("Twin's Father") helped them. (This inmate was assigned to the job of taking care of the male twins.) Once the form was filled out, the twins were taken to Mengele. Mengele asked them more questions and looked for any unusual traits.

Life for the Twins

Each morning, life for the twins began at six o'clock. The twins were required to report for roll call in front of their barracks no matter what the weather. After roll call, they ate a small breakfast. Then each morning, Mengele would appear for an inspection.

Mengele's presence did not necessarily connote fear in the children. He was often known to appear with pockets full of candy and chocolates, to pat them on the head, to talk with them, and sometimes even play. Many of the children, especially the younger ones, called him "Uncle Mengele."

The twins were given brief instruction in makeshift "classes" and were sometimes even allowed to play soccer.  The children were not required to do hard work and had jobs like being a messenger. Twins were also spared from punishments as well as from the frequent selections within the camp.

Conditions for the twins were one of the best in Auschwitz, until the trucks came to take them to the experiments.


Generally, every day, every twin had to have blood drawn.

Blood, often in large quantities, was drawn from twins' fingers and arms, and sometimes both their arms simultaneously. The youngest children, whose arms and hands were very small, suffered the most: Blood was drawn from their necks, a painful and frightening procedure.

It was estimated that approximately ten cubic centimeters of blood was drawn daily.

Besides having blood drawn, the twins were to undergo various medical experiments. Mengele kept his exact reasoning for his experiments a secret. Many of the twins that he experimented on weren't sure for what purpose the individual experiments were for nor what exactly what was being injected or done to them.

Each morning, the twins would wonder what was in store for them that day. Would their number be called? If yes, then the trucks would pick them up and take them to one of several laboratories.

  • Measurements

The twins were forced to undress and lay next to each other. Then every detail of their anatomy was carefully examined, studied, and measured. What was the same was deemed to be hereditary and was different was deemed to be the result of the environment. These tests would last for several hours.

  • Blood

Blood tests included mass transfusions of blood from one twin to another.

  • Eyes

In attempts to fabricate blue eyes, drops or injections of chemicals would be put in the eyes. This often caused severe pain, infections, and temporary or permanent blindness.

  • Shots and Diseases

Mysterious injections that caused severe pain. Injections into the spine and spinal taps with no anesthesia. Diseases, including typhus and tuberculosis, would be purposely given to one twin and not the other. When one died, the other was often killed to examine and compare the effects of the disease.

  • Surgeries

Various surgeries without anesthesia including organ removal, castration, and amputations.

One day, my twin brother, Tibi, was taken away for some special experiments. 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.

  • Death

Dr Miklos Nyiszli was Mengele's prisoner pathologist. The autopsies became the final experiment. Dr. Nyiszli performed autopsies on twins whom had died from the experiments or whom had been purposely killed just for after-death measurements and examination. Some of the twins had been stabbed with a needle that pierced their heart and then were injected with chloroform or phenol which caused near immediate blood coagulation and death.

Some of the organs, eyes, blood samples, and tissues would be sent to Verschuer for further study.


Juana Bormann

Juana Bormann was a murderous SS woman, who served in the deathcamp Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen. She was known as The woman with the dogs, who took sadistic pleasure in setting her wolfhounds on prisoners to tear them to pieces.

Juana Bormann joined the SS as a civilian employee on March 1, 1938, because - as she later said during The Belsen Trial - I could earn more money ..

After World War 2 Juana Bormann was found guilty and convicted of war crimes and the execution was set for December 13, 1945. In his book of memoirs, Executioner, the English hangman Albert Pierrepoint described Juana Bormann's last hours. The afternoon before execution each prisoner was weighed so the correct drop could be calculated for them:

"She limped down the corridor looking old and haggard. She was forty-two years old, only a little over five feet high .. she was trembling as she was put on the scale. In German she said: I have my feelings .."



Hans Hoffmann

Hans Hoffmann (December 2, 1919, - ?) was an SS-Rottenführer and member of staff atAuschwitz concentration camp. He was prosecuted at the Auschwitz Trial.

Born in India, Hoffmann was a German national with Yugoslavian citizenship. He worked as a locksmith. Following the invasion by Nazi forces, Hoffman was drafted into the Yugloslavian army, and was taken prisoner by Germany. He joined the SS on October 21, 1942 and was deployed to Auschwitz, where he initially worked as a guard. Later he was assigned to thePolitische Abteilung (camp Gestapo) in the main camp. In October 1944, he was deployed to Birkenau, where he worked as an interrogator.

Hoffmann was tried by the Supreme National Tribunal at the Auschwitz Trial in Kraków for his role at the camp, and was sentenced to 15 years in prison. Due to an amnesty, he was released on July 14, 1956.

Herta Bothe

In April 1943 the Nazis created Bergen-Belsen in Lower Saxony near the city of Celle as a transit center - Bergen-Belsen was never officially given formal concentration camp status. But the second commandant, SS-Hauptsturmführer Josef Kramer, completed the transformation of Bergen-Belsen into a regular concentration camp. 

The notorious Herta Bothe became a camp guard and soon acquired a reputation as a sadist who beat prisoners without mercy. She had a good time shooting at weak female prisoners carrying food containers from the kitchen to the block with her pistol. And she often beat sick girls with a wooden stick. 

On April 15, 1945, the British army liberated Bergen-Belsen. However, it was unable to rescue the inmates. On that liberation day the British found 10,000 unburied corpses and 40,000 sick and dying prisoners. Among the 40,000 living inmates, 28,000 died after the liberation. The inmates were abandoned in Bergen-Belsen by the Germans, left behind for death to come.

After the war Herta Bothe was charged with having committed war crimes. At the Bergen-Belsen Trial she got imprisonment for 10 years.

Ilse Koch

During World War 2 the infamous Ilse Koch was known as the Bitch of Buchenwald for her bestial cruelty and sadistic behavior. She was the wife of Karl Koch, the Kommandant of Buchenwald, and struck fear into the inmates daily. She was especially fond of riding her horse through the camp, whipping any prisoner who attracted her attention. 

Her hobby was collecting lampshades, book covers, and gloves made from the skins of specially murdered concentration camp inmates, and shrunken human skulls.

Prisoners' tattooed skin

Ilse Koch would specially select prisoners with distinctive tattoos on her rides around the camp. These prisoners would be killed and their skin tanned and stored for later use by the SS guards. 

Her taste for collecting lampshades made from the tattooed skins  was described by a witness at The Nuremberg Trials after the war:

"The finished products (i.e. tattooed skin detached from corpses) were turned over to Koch's wife, who had them fashioned into lampshades and other ornamental household articles .." 

In the book Sidelights on the Koch Affair by Stefan Heymann the author pointed out that the fact, that the Kochs had lamps made of human skin did not distinguish them from the other SS officers. They had the same artworks made for their family homes:

"It is more interesting that Frau Koch had a lady's handbag made out of the same material. She was just as proud of it as a South Sea island woman would have been about her cannibal trophies .. "

Ilse Koch was tried by an American military tribunal in 1947, found guilty of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. But her sentence was reduced to four years and she was soon released. 

Rearrested in 1949, Ilse Koch was tried before a West German court for the killing of German nationals, and on January 15, 1951, she was sentenced to life imprisonment for murder.

She committed suicide in a Bavarian prison on September 1, 1967.


Herta Oberheuser

At Auschwitz extermination was conducted on an industrial scale with several million persons eventually killed through gassing, starvation, shooting, and burning.

Dr. Herta Oberheuser killed children with oil and evipan injections, then removed their limbs and vital organs. The time from the injection to death was between three and five minutes, with the person being fully conscious until the last moment.

She made some of the most gruesome and painful medical experiments during World War 2, focused on deliberately inflicting wounds on the subjects. In order to simulate the combat wounds of German soldiers fighting in the war, Herta Oberheuser rubbed foreign objects, such as wood, rusty nails, slivers of glass, dirt or sawdust into the wounds.

After WW2, in October 1946, the Nuremberg Medical Trial began, lasting until August of 1947. Twenty-tree German physicians and scientists were accused of performing vile and potentially lethal medical experiments on concentration camps inmates and other living human subjects between 1933 and 1945. Fifteen defendants were found guilty, and eight were acquitted. Of the 15, seven were given the death penalty and eight imprisoned.

Herta Oberheuser was the only female defendant in the medical trial. She received a 20 year sentence but was released in April 1952 and became a family doctor at Stocksee in Germany. Her license to practice medicine was revoked in 1958. 

A Female Prisoner at Auschwitz Kills a Guard

Walter Peltz, imprisoned at Auschwitz 1943-1944, witnessed the events that led to a guard's murder and the subsequent retaliation by the Germans

 "Now those women were not allowed to go during the day to the barracks.

They were getting dried out from the sun and hunger, no food, no water, clothes were shabby and torn.

So when they brought in the shingles and they unloaded the shingles next to a barrack, and when the truck left, some of those girls climbed up on the shingles and they did sit down on the shingles. That [Nazi guard] Schillinger saw that they climbed up on those shingles.

He came in all around, came into the camp there, to that section, and started to beat and kick the women. Horrible. That they are ruining the shingles.

But this woman had a lot of guts to go up to him and told him and says, 'The shingles are more important than human beings, that you are killing so many?'

And she pointed her finger to the crematorium. So he hit her so hard that she fell to the ground and turned around and start to walk away. She ran after him, pulled out his own gun and killed him.

[...] They took all the two hundred women, they gassed them right away."


Walter Wolf Peltz was born into a working-class family in Warsaw, Poland, on May 12, 1919. His area of the city later became the Warsaw Ghetto. Walter quit school at the age of 10 to help support his family. When war broke out in 1939, his home was destroyed and his family left starving.

To avoid arrest by the Gestapo, Walter fled to central Poland, near Lublin, where he was hidden by a Christian family for more than a year. Taken into custody in 1941, Walter survived four years in the concentration camps of Majdanek, Auschwitz, Sachsenhausen, and Dachau before being liberated by U.S. troops in May 1945.

Shortly after liberation, Walter married Rose Abraham, a Hungarian survivor of Dachau. They settled in Memmingen, Germany, opened a clothing store and, in 1946, had a son.

The family left Germany in April 1949, arriving in Milwaukee a month later where Walter quickly found work as a tailor. A daughter was born in 1952. Walter's wife died in 1968 and he remarried in 1972. Walter lectured frequently about the Holocaust until his death in 2003.

A Young Woman Escapes From the Warsaw Ghetto

In 1940, after Pela Alpert's father insisted that she escape the ghetto to save herself, she never saw her family again.

"So my dad said to me, he says, 'You are so young, so young, and I would like you to get out of here.'

Now, I did not have any identification as a Gentile girl. I wore a paska, that means the Jewish Star of David.

And I said, 'Dad, how will I get out? They'll shoot me.' He said, 'Well, dying of hunger is just as bad.' And he said I didn't, you know, have the long nose or something, so he said, 'You just try it to go to a small town.'

So one day I had made up my mind, and there were a couple of friends of mine that — and I says, 'I don't want to leave you here in these...'

'Well, we stay in this' — they had for this people to stay — 'We'll stay here, we'll control ourselves. Don't worry about us.' I did not want to go, but my father just liked pushed me out.

And we went through, there was a wall and there was a little, like a — to go through a hole to the other side, you know, where the Gentiles lived. There you could take a train.

Here I went, took off, ripped off this [star]. Now this, for sure, if they caught me, I would be dead. And I had a few dollars — not dollars but zlotys — and to buy a ticket and we bought a ticket. I had no identification as a Jewish or a Gentile, but if they caught me and they would ask me, what would I say? They did not recognize me, and I went on the train."


Pela Rosen Alpert was born in Dobrzyn, Poland, on October 26, 1920. She was the youngest of seven children in a well-to-do mercantile family. In the mid 1930s, her sister and brother-in-law, Rose and Jacob Fogel, left Poland to settle in Green Bay, Wisconsin. With the outbreak of World War II, Pela fled with her family to Warsaw when she was 19. She contracted typhus while in the Warsaw Ghetto and nearly died.

After her recuperation, her father convinced her to escape from the Ghetto by crawling through a hole in a wall. She never saw her family again. Pela was eventually rounded up for forced labor at the munitions factory at Skarzysko-Kamienna. After more than two years of grueling work, she was transferred first to a labor camp at Czestochowa and then to the concentration camp at Ravensbruck, Germany. She remained at Ravensbruck until late April 1945, when the camp's inmates were rescued by the Swedish Red Cross and transported to Sweden, where she remained for four years.

In February 1949, Pela arrived in Green Bay to live with her sister and brother-in-law. Within months, she was engaged to Richard Alpert, whom she met on a blind date. They were married on February 19, 1950, exactly one year after her arrival in Green Bay. After raising two daughters, Pela worked part-time at a pharmacy. Her husband, a former grocery store owner, was a salesman for a paper company. Pela died in 2005.

A Polish Mother and Her Baby Escape Liquidation in 1943

Chana Comins, her two-year-old daughter, and other Jewish laborers were traveling to a liquidation camp when she made her daring escape.

"And I was in that wagon with a lot of people and you couldn't even ask, but I asked one Gestapo. I said 'Before I know where I am going — you can't fool me — but can I at least have a cup of water?' It was a little farmhouse. And I asked him if I can go in, I said 'Even you have a heart, you can go, can I go in and have drink of water?'

He said, 'No.' But then another Gestapo said 'What can you lose? Let her go and have a drink of water.' And he let me.

I went into the little farmhouse; nobody was there. And it was a window, just enough to crawl out of that window. And I got some water, and that was kinda high that window, and I broke the window with my elbow and I cut myself pretty bad and I was bleeding, and I tossed Sally out and I jumped out of the window and I escaped to the woods.

And when I escaped they start shooting, but they never hit me. A lot of people escaped that day through the woods and I went to a woods I never been before I didn't know where I am and Sally — lucky what Sally was a very good baby — she never cried.

And when I escaped and it was morning and I didn't know where I am, but I could see, it was around four o'clock it was still light, and I could hear the machine guns and I could see some of it from the woods.

How they, the people they took all their clothes off and they shot them and they just fell in the ditches, the graves, the ditches we used to work on it."


Chana Bebczuk Comins was born in Stepan, Poland, on June 5, 1918. Although she attended Polish schools, Chana also received a Jewish education, learning Hebrew in the afternoons. In 1940, she married Melvin Cominetsky (name changed to "Comins" upon their arrival in Madison). Their first daughter was born on the same day the Nazis entered their town in 1941.

The 22-year-old new mother and her baby, only a few hours old, were immediately separated from Melvin and taken to a forced labor camp. There she witnessed the execution of her family and friends. In 1943, Chana made a daring escape from a transport of inmates on their way to a mass execution. She hid in the forest with her baby until the end of the war.

After liberation, Chana worked in Munich until she was miraculously reunited with her husband. They lived at a displaced persons camp in Ulm, Germany, where two more daughters were born. In December 1949, resettlement officials sent them to Madison, Wisconsin, where they were given housing, food, and employment. They also had a son.

Chana worked for more than 25 years as a cook in several Madison restaurants. Melvin was employed at Oscar Mayer & Co. for 23 years until his death in 1971. Chana died in December 2003.

  • June 5, 1918~December 2003.

Witnessing the Torture of Prisoners Caught Trying to Escape

Rabbi Manfred Swarsensky, was sentenced to forced labor at Sachsenhausen in 1938 for three months.

"It did happen that some of those who were nineteen, twenty, twenty-one, daring Jews, did not return from outside the camp. But by hook or crook they had hidden that day in the woods, they were all around, woods.

They had tried to sneak into the system of the underground, what is it, sewer, the sewer system, and tried in the hope of being able to crawl through the sewers and come out somewhere in Berlin. Some did it.

When these poor fellows were caught, and they were invariably caught, first of all, you just can't get through there, I mean practically, I don't know what they had in their minds, but people do all kinds of things in desperation.

Then they were brought back, they were put on a block in the middle of this exercise field, high up. And then something happened which one could see in a TV presentation of Holocaust. They were beaten up publicly. Maybe ten of these horrible guys took turns and beat these poor people up with whips. The blood spurts.

They didn't immediately die. After the beating was over and the singing, and the beating took place to the songs we had to sing.

Then they would put this poor fellow, naked — the nude business played an important sadistic or sexual role too — always nude, they would put him, December, January, whenever, in front of the barbed wire he had to stand in attention all night.

They would pour water over him. The water would freeze on his body and naturally, the fellow would die, you know, the terrible tortures.

And other things, too horrible even to describe."

Name: Manfred Erich Swarsensky (1906 – 1981)

Birth Place: Marienfliess, Germany (Prussia)

Arrived in Wisconsin: 1940, Madison


Manfred Erich Swarsensky was born to a rural family in Marienfliess, Germany (Prussia), on October 22, 1906, where his family had lived for many generations. He was educated in Lutheran theology during his primary school years. Between 1925-1932, Manfred did rabbinical study at Hochschule fur die Wissenschaft des Judentums (Academy for Jewish Studies) in Berlin while simultaneously pursuing a Ph.D. in Semitics at the University of Wurzburg.

Upon ordination, Manfred was appointed to serve as a rabbi in Berlin's large Jewish community. He used his sermons to speak out against the Nazi regime from the time of its rise to power in 1933. Following the anti-Jewish rioting of Kristallnacht on November 9-10, 1938, Rabbi Swarsensky was sent to the concentration camp at Sachsenhausen. In spite of hard labor, humiliation, and torture, he was able to offer comfort to his fellow inmates. Three months later, the rabbi was unexpectedly offered freedom on the condition that he leave the country.

Rabbi Swarsensky arrived in the United States in July 1939, after spending several months in Holland and England. In 1940, after a brief stay in Chicago, he accepted a post at a newly organized Reform congregation, Beth El Temple, in Madison, Wisconsin. He remained there until 1976. Rabbi Swarsensky was instrumental in helping many other Holocaust survivors reach Wisconsin and re-establish their lives. In 1952, he married Ida Weiner of Chicago, with whom he raised two children. The rabbi died in Madison on November 10, 1981, the 43rd anniversary of Kristallnacht.

  • 1906 – 1981

Forced Laborers Break Away From a Polish Labor Camp

Fred Platner and hundreds of other recent arrivals at a labor camp escaped en masse by running into the woods.

"And I really don't know how everybody knew. We just got the message around talking to people and telling them, 'Tonight would be the night.'

Well anyway, that particular night, this is only after a few days, we got up and we started running into the woods. And nobody looked back. Everybody's running for their life.

And by the time the Germans started shooting with the machine guns in the dark — I don't know if they caught anybody and anybody fell down. I wouldn't know the difference. And as I say, when you run for your lives you keep on running, you don't look back [to see] who's getting killed or not. Besides you couldn't have changed anything anyway looking back.

So we run into the woods and it's amazingly that with that many, a few hundred people, you know, and everybody runs in different directions, finally after a couple days you start making connection with other people in the woods again. You know and it was very dangerous in the woods.

You couldn't move at daytime since the Germans had patrols trying to find us in the woods and the Polish people who were living in that territory — we were afraid they're not the best friends of the Jewish people. Even so, you know, being under control.

So we had to be very careful moving and there was times, some people still had a little pack with them, you know, grabbing and running, maybe a shirt or two, that they would have Polish snipers firing out at daytime from the woods at us.

So we tried to move mostly at night."

Name: Fred Platner (1917 – 1988)

Birth Place: Amsterdam, Holland

Arrived in Wisconsin: 1951, Madison


Fred Platner was born in Amsterdam, Holland, on August 4, 1917. His family moved during his childhood to Chemnitz, Germany, and later to Bielsko-Biala, Poland. The latter city was one of the first to be invaded by the German army in September 1939. Fred was assigned to forced labor but escaped and found his way to the Russian lines. In late 1940, he and other ex-Poles were arrested by Soviet authorities and shipped to Siberia.

Fred spent nearly a year in a Siberian labor camp until the Germans attacked the Soviet Union in June 1941. After traveling for a year in Russia, Fred arrived in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, in Central Asia. He worked as a truck driver for a Russian army camp until the end of hostilities in Europe in 1945.

After the war, he worked in displaced persons camps between 1947 and 1950 in Austria and Germany. Before leaving for the United States, Fred returned to Poland as well as to his hometown in Germany. He found only a handful of surviving relatives and a cold reception by former friends.

In late 1951, Fred and his wife, Ruth von Lange, settled in Madison, Wisconsin. The next year they relocated to Wausau, where he rose to become vice president of the Wausau Steel Corporation. The Platners had three daughters and divorced in 1974. Fred died in 1988.


  • (1917 – 1988

A Rabbi Escapes to Switzerland in 1944

Rabbi Mayer Relles hid in a Catholic home for the disabled in Milan, Italy, until he escaped across the border.

"Yeah, I want to tell you, that before we left that institution, Mother Clara, she gave us cheese and meat and salami and chunks of meat that were old, years and years. They know how to make it, you know, that it doesn't spoil. The more it stays, the better it tastes. They gave us — I had a valise with food.

I had one lira. All of it. Why? Because when I entered, I don't know all these things, I gave the money I had and I gave my things away, you know. I delivered there my bread you know, my bread coupons, too. But I had to eat.

And we began to walk about twelve o'clock, midnight. It was the most wonderful walk on the mountains. We had to cross the mountains. It was the most wonderful walk.

We had four smugglers. They carried — the smugglers carried our valises, and we walked.

There was a path, we walked, we stopped in a place, you know where the shepherds sleep, and we had there water and we ate and so on.

At two o'clock in the morning — it took us two hours. I'm telling you, it was the most — you know — and we have the moonlight, yes, during our walk, we saw all of a sudden it became day, you know and we heard planes.

It was that night they bombed Milan.

All the time I was there, they never touched Milan. I don't say it's my merit, [laugh] but in fact, next day we arrived in Switzerland [and] we read in the paper that they bombed Milan."

Name: Mayer Relles (1908 – 1995)

Birth Place: Skalat, Poland

Arrived in Wisconsin: 1951, Superior

The burning and gassing and all these things, no one had an idea.

— Rabbi Mayer Relles


Mayer Relles was born in Skalat, Poland, on June 2, 1908, to a family that was beginning to shed some of the constraints of Orthodox Judaism. As a promising young Talmudic scholar, Mayer traveled to other countries when quotas were imposed upon Jews in Polish schools and was ordained in 1932.

Mayer enrolled for advanced studies at the rabbinical seminary in Rome in 1933 and moved to Venice to accept a rabbinical appointment in 1936. After the Fascist Italian government entered the war, he was arrested in June 1940, briefly interned in a concentration camp, and released a few months later. For the next three years, he worked in the Jewish community of Venice and pursued his studies in the neighboring city of Padua. In addition to his rabbinical studies, he received a Ph.D. in Italian Literature and Philosophy in 1941.

After the Germans occupied Italy in September 1943, Mayer went into hiding. He tried escaping into neutral Switzerland, but was arrested near the border. He remained incarcerated in the city of Como, Italy, until the Italian Underground helped him escape to Milan. Mayer spent several months there before successfully escaping into Switzerland in April 1944.

Rabbi Relles lived in Switzerland until September 1945, when he returned to Venice. From 1946 to 1951, he served Jewish communities in the Italian cities of Ancona and Trieste and completed his advanced rabbinical studies in Padua.

The rabbi and his wife moved to the U.S. in 1951. Rabbi Relles held teaching positions and rabbinical posts in the Chicago area and in Superior, Wisconsin. From 1971 to 1976, he returned to Italy to serve as chief rabbi of Trieste. He later served as the spiritual leader at Anshe Poale Zedek synagogue in Manitowoc, Wisconsin.

Rabbi Relles wrote a long manuscript account of his experiences in Italy during World War II and his escape to Switzerland in April 1944. It is available in the library of the Wisconsin Historical Society. Rabbi Mayer Relles died in 1995.

  • 1908 – 1995

Margot Dreschel

Margot Dreschel (or Drexler or Dreschler or Drechsel or Drexel)

(May 171908 – 1945)

was a prison guard at concentration camps who was born in Neugersdorf, Germany.

Before her enlistment as an SS auxiliary, she worked at an office in Berlin. On January 311941, Margot Dreschel arrived at Ravensbrück to begin guard training. At first she was an Aufseherin, a low-ranking female guard, at Ravensbrück (a concentration camp primarily for internment of women). She trained under Oberaufseherin (Senior Overseer) Johanna Langefeld in 1941, and quickly became a Rapportführerin (Report Overseer), a higher ranked guard.

On April 271942, Dreschel was selected for transport to the newly opened Auschwitz I camp in Poland. She was very devoted to her work there and served under Maria Mandel. Dreschel was also head of all camp offices in Auschwitz.

Dreschel's appearance was reportedly repellent, as one female Auschwitz prisoner recounted: "And Camp Leader Dreschel was there, her buck teeth sticking out, even when her mouth is closed." Inmates described her as vulgar, thin and ugly. After the war, many survivors testified of her brutal treatment.

She regularly moved between the Auschwitz I camp and Birkenau, and involved herself in selections of women and children to be sent to the gas chambers. On November 11944, Margot went to Flossenbürg as a Rapportführerin. In January 1945, she was moved back to the Ravensbruck subcamp at Neustadt-Glewe, and fled from there in April 1945 as Nazi Germany fell.

In May 1945, several former Auschwitz prisoners recognized Margot on a road from Pirna to Bautzen, and took her to Russian Military Police.

The Soviets condemned her to death and executed her in May or June 1945 by hanging in Bautzen.

  • (May 17, 1908 – 1945)

Hildegard Lächert

Hildegard Lächert 

(January 20, 1920 in Berlin – 1995)

was a German nurse and a notable female guard (Aufseherin) at several German World War II concentration camps. She became notorious for her service at RavensbrückMajdanek and Auschwitz-Birkenau. After the war she spent 27 years in prison altogether for her brutal treatment of inmates during her service.

In October 1942, at the age of 22, Hildegard Lächert was called to serve at Majdanek as anAufseherin. In 1944, after the birth of her third child, Lächert went on to serve at Auschwitz concentration camp. The ruthless overseer fled the camp in December 1944 with the advancing Red Army on her heels. There are reports that her last overseeing jobs were at Bolzano, a detention camp in northern Italy, and at the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp camp in Austria.

In November 1947, the former SS woman appeared in a KrakówPoland courtroom, along with 40 other SS guards in the Auschwitz Trial. Lächert sat next to three other former SS women, Alice OrlowskiTherese Brandl and Luise Danz. Because of her war crimes at Auschwitz and P?aszów, the former guard and mother of two children was given a sentence of 15 years in prison. Lächert was released in 1956 from a Kraków prison. In 1975, the German government decided to try 16 former SS guards from the Majdanek concentration camp. Lächert was one of them, along withHermine Braunsteiner and Alice Orlowski. From November 26, 1975, until June 30, 1981, the accused were tried in a Düsseldorf courtroom.

The testimonies heard concerning Lächert's sadistic behaviour were long and detailed. One former prisoner, Henryka Ostrowska, testified, "We always said blutige about the fact that she struck until blood showed," giving her the nickname "Bloody Brigitte" (Krwawa Brygida in Polish). Many other witnesses characterized her as the "worst" or "the most cruel" Aufseherin, as "Beast", and as "Fright of the Prisoners." For her part in selections to the gas chamber, releasing her dog onto inmates and her overall abuse, the court sentenced her to 12 years imprisonment.

Hildegard Lächert died in 1995 in Berlin, aged 75.

Lachert Martha Luise Hildegard "Bloody Brigid" (1920 -) - Born on 19.03.1920 as the youngest of three sisters. From 1926 to 1934, she attended school, to 1937, she studied tailoring, this study is not completed. Then, in connection with work, she worked as a worker in various factories, until 23.08.1939, when she bore an illegitimate son. 

Already in 1939, again took the obligatory work in a munitions factory. After birth, the illegitimate daughter of 03/04/1941 was initially unemployed for a short time later worked as a nurse in the infirmary, and then, in the framework of official duty, in factories producing airplanes. 

From there it took over the Interior Ministry. Then seconded to the SS as a caretaker in Ravenbrück. 15.10.1942 has been transferred as a housekeeper to Lublin ( KGL / KL Lublin ) and 30.09.1943 was released from the camp because of pregnancy. Tried in Krakow in the crew Auschwitz in 1947, sentenced to 15 years in prison, was released 12.07.1956 Lived in Reicharthausen. 

Again tried before the National Court in Düsseldorf for the years 1975-1981 and sentenced to 12 years in prison for complicity in murder in two cases out of 100 people. 

She was one of the largest sadystek. Prisoners beaten with a stick, sticks, whips, iron pipe, not cast in bricks. Sophia Klouthke struck her in the leg by an iron pipe, She would limp for several months, another wi??niarce once cut the head, yet another for the very diligent work, hung on his hands linked behind the wall of the hut. Zofia Wroblewska kidneys rebounded. Beat while mostly for no reason. It was enough that one of the prisoners was in the range of her hand. 


  • January 20, 1920~1995

Personal Statements From Victims

Note: The following are testimonies of living individuals who were subjected to Nazi medical experiments and who were identified by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (Claims Conference). These testimonies and those of the other identified individuals will be turned over to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (in Washington, D.C.), Yad Vashem (in Israel) and other Holocaust institutions. The individuals listed below want their experiences to become part of the historical record, but asked to keep their names private because of the sensitivity of the material.

Please be advised that some of the following material is graphic in nature.

Ms. A, Age 83

Place of Persecution: Auschwitz
Dates: April 1943 to May 1945

"The experiment was done to me in Auschwitz, Block 10. The experiment was done on my uterus. I was given shots in my uterus and as a result of that I was fainting from severe pain for a year and a half. [Years later,] Professor Hirsh from the hospital in Tzrifin examined me and said that my uterus became as a uterus of a 4-year-old child and that my ovaries shrank."

Ms. B, Age 78

Place of Persecution: Auschwitz
Dates: April 1944 to September 1944

"I was put into Barrick No. 10 in Auschwitz in April of 1944. After a month or so of being placed in Barrick No. 10, I as well as the other female prisoners no longer produced monthly menses and experiences terrible effects of a rash. First, pus-filled blisters appeared then turned into sores. In some cases, this rash [occurred] on both arms and my chest. In the morning and the night we were lined up approximately for two hours for ‘roll call.’ During this time Dr. Mengele came once or twice a week and he pulled out the weak and the sick from the line and they never have been seen again. It was necessary to make sure that the entire body was covered so Dr. Mengele would not see even one sore, or our life would be over. Dr. Gisella Perl assisted Dr. Mengele during the day.

However, at night Dr. Perl came into the barrick and administered an ointment with glue-like consistency to every sore, in order to heal this horrific rash. Dr. Perl came periodically to Barrick No. 10 and also went to other barricks to administer this ointment. The rash needed several weeks to clear up; however, it would often return a few days later. In Auschwitz, there was a belief among the female prisoners that the soup we were given to eat was drugged and the drug was the reason why we suffered from this horrific rash. Without Dr. Perl’s medical knowledge and willingness to risk her life by helping us, it is would be impossible to know what would have happened to me and to many other female prisoners.

I lived in Sighet, the same town as Dr. Gisella Perl, until I was 16, when I was sent away to the ghetto. I remember what a wonderful reputation she had, and how well-known she was in our area. My mother was her patient, and my grandmother went to her husband, Dr. Krauss, who was an internist. When we both in Auschwitz, I remember she was the doctor of the Jews there."

Ms. M, Age 73

Place of Persecution: Auschwitz
Dates: June 1944 – May 1945

"I suffered immense pain and cruelty from the experiments. They were inhuman, but because of them I survived. As bad as the experiments were without them I would not be here today to write this ….Now that I am emotionally a lot stronger I would like to describe a little more details about my horrible experiments which no matter how hard I am trying I never get over it as long as I live.

I was born November 23, 1930. I was about five weeks in Auschwitz alone, separated from my family, my parents, two sisters and two brothers when Dr. Mengele pulled me out of a queue as we were on the way from the c-lager [camp] to the gas chamber. I was the only one picked that day personally by Mengele and his assistant. They took me to his [laboratory], where I met other children. They were screaming from pain. Black and blue bodies covered with blood.

I collapsed from horror and terror and fainted. A bucket of cold water was thrown on me to revive me. As soon as I stood up I was whipped with a leather whip which broke my flesh, then I was told the whipping was a sample of what I would receive if I did not follow instructions and orders. I was used as a guinea pig for medical experiments. I was never ever given painkillers or anesthetics. Every day I suffered excruciating pain. I was injected with drugs and chemicals. My body most of the time was connected to tubes which inserted some drugs in to my body.

Many days I was tied up for hours. Some days they made cuts in to my body and left the wounds open for them to study. Most of the time there nothing to eat. Every day my body was numb with pain. There was no more skin left on my body for them to put injections or tubes …. One day we woke up and the place was empty. We were left with open infected wounds and no food. We all were half dead with no energy or life left in us. [One] day …Russian soldiers tried to shake me to see if I was alone or dead. They felt a tiny beat in my heart and quickly picked me up and took me to a hospital."

Mr. K, Age 80

Place of Persecution: Auschwitz
Dates: 1942 to 1945

"As soon as I arrived in Auschwitz I was taken into a room and there I was undressed and made to kneel down … on my knees and my hands. The SS officer [who] was probably a doctor, dressed in white robe, shoved an iron stick, which had a handle on its end, right into my rectum. He then turned the stick and caused an involuntary ejaculation of sperm. A female SS officer [who] worked with the other officer held two pieces of glass underneath my genitals in order to collect a sample of my sperm for the lab. They then made me stand up on a special machine that gave electric waves to both sides of my genitals until again a sperm was ejaculated. After the liberation I was taken to Sanatorium Gauting next to Munich. There I was bedridden for almost a year starting with a weight of only 30 kilograms. During that year I was operated for serious medical problems."

Ms. G, Age 81

Place of Persecution: Auschwitz 
Date: March 1944 – April 1944

"Each day I was submerged in hot water. Whenever I tried to put my head out of the water in order to breathe I was forced back into the water by Dr. Josef Mengele’s stick. He was enjoying himself. This lasted for 10 minutes. I was immediately afterwards put into cold water and the same procedure was repeated. There were five [people] including myself undergoing the same process. After these daily sessions we were taken to barrack No. 8 - Auschwitz, which was destined [for] those who were to die, to see for how long we were going to survive. A [woman] passing by saw me gesturing and crying for help through a hole in a plank of the wooden barrack. She loosened the plank and wrapped me. I was saved. I know nothing about the fate of the other four persons."


Janni Kowalski

How gay affair helped me to escape gas chambers; Auschwitz survivor Janni Kowalski tells Peter Grant how his relationship with a guard saved his life.

Byline: Peter Grant 

A 770135 . . . are just numbers, but not any random series of digits. They are indelibly tattooed on the arm of Janni Kowalski. 

Janni is a Holocaust survivor who is in Liverpool tonight, as part of the city's Homotopia festival, to talk about a life that is more than remarkable: a heart-rending story of love, loss but ultimate survival. The 81-year-old lived through the Warsaw Blitzkrieg and the Warsaw Ghetto, but worse was to come in the shape of the concentration camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau and Berg en-Belsen. 

Born in Scotland, he lived with his, 'well off' parents on an estate near Edinburgh. Then in 1939 all that changed... forever. 

Janni, who is recovering from a recent stroke, speaks slowly and there are bouts of silence as he recollects his thoughts. Thoughts that won't go away. "My mother visited some friends in Poland and took me with her," he recalls. They were there during the blitzkrieg of 1939. His mother was killed in the raid and 14-year-old Janni was buried amid the rubble. The falling debris caused a massive blow to his head and he lost his memory completely. "People who found me thought I was a very pretty girl. "I was very, very good looking," he allows himself a little laugh. The daughter of a Jewish family who took him under their wing realised he was a boy. "I would go and get food for them and shop. 

"In the morning I would go out as a boy and because I had this little kilt I could go out in the afternoon as a girl and get more rations. "I was canny and knew even then that I was a survivor." He would bring food back to them in the pitiful cellars in which they were forced to live. "The Jews could only speak to other Jews and they were forced to work in recycling factories." 

And then the Nazis cleared out the ghetto and Janni, with his adopted Jewish family, was put on a cattle truck. For three days they travelled with just two buckets in the compartment for so called 'sanitation.' No food, no water. "We arrived in this cold, cold place at 8.30 in the morning. "There was man a cruel Doctor - who had this riding stick and he would point the women and girls in one queue and the men and boys in another. 

"I had long hair, so I was put in the female line." Then something occurred that, he says, turned the nightmare into the 'luckiest day of his life'. A handsome 28-year-old Lt Colonel, injured from fighting at the Russian front, was there at the ramp. He was a high-ranking SS man who was watching the selection. "He looked at me and I knew he fancied me. I smiled back. "Those exchanged smiles saved me from the gas chamber. 

"I was in Auschwitz for 22 months and I carried out messages for my German officer." The SS man's name was Emil. "We became lovers' I knew then I was and always would be gay. 
"The camps dehumanised you but I was looked after." But worse was to come for Janni. He was later ordered on a death march to Bergen-Belsen and stayed there until its liberation by the British Army.

Emil was sent elsewhere. "After the war he came looking for me and finally found me playing piano in a bar in Hamburg. "We lived together but after a serious illness in the mid 50s I returned to England." Janni married and had a son called Michael, but he and his wife knew that he was gay. He worked in agriculture until his retirement and now lives quietly in Grantham. 

Janni decided to write his biography with author Jeremy Harder, called Love Sets You Free, a few years ago. He returned to Auschwitz in 2002 and says that even as he walked under the infamous gate by the watch tower, he shuffled. "We all shuffled in and out. It all came back again." Emil, he says, was the love of his life and he was deeply emotionally scarred when he heard of his death. 

"He saved my life. I would not be here telling you this without him." "Now Janni shares his moving memoirs speaking regularly at Holocaust memorial days. "I do not believe in God. "And I do not think I will see Emil again. "My purpose in telling my story is that we must help each other and stop the evil events of the Holocaust happening again. 
"Those camps, the ghettos and the brutality and inhumanity
"It was not hell - it was worse than hell." 

Shoes taken from the Victims at Auschwitz.

Children at Auschwitz used in Experiments.

AUMEIER, Hans SS-Sturmbannführer

1906 - 1948 
Schutzhaftlagerführer (Deputy Commandant) 

Aumeier was born in Amberg (Bavaria) in 1906, the son of a factory worker. He left school after only six years, which meant that he was almost illiterate and suffered periods of unemployment.

In 1929 he became a member of the Nazi party and in 1931 he joined the SA, where he was employed as a driver. The same year he changed to the SS. After service in KZ Dachau he was transferred to KZ Flossenbürg, where he stayed from August 1938 until January 1942. 

In January 1942, he succeeded Karl Fritzsch as Schutzhaftlagerführer (Deputy Commandant) of the main camp inAuschwitz.

His transfer could be seen as a result of his good connections to Höß, as they both had gone to the so called “Eicke-School” in Dachau. However, it soon became clear that the work was far in excess of Aumeier’s capabilities and he therefore gave even more power to the mostly green (criminal) Kapos, which resulted in even greater terror.

Aumeier was responsible for mass executions and selections in the main camp. He also took part in the mass killing of the survivors of the attempted escape from the penal-company on 10 June 1942. 

In autumn 1943, he was sent as Commandant to the Vaivara concentration camp in Estonia. From January until the end of the war he served as Commandant of the small Norwegian camp of Mysen, where he totally changed character and behaved in a humane manner, even conducting negotiations with the Norwegian Red Cross. 

In early summer 1945 he was taken prisoner and interrogated by the British. In his testimonies he at first denied any knowledge of gas chambers in Auschwitz; later he gave very detailed descriptions of the gassings in Bunkers 1 and 2. Strangely, his statements, kept in the British Public Record Office, were not unearthed until 1992 by David Irving, who did not immediately make his findings public. 

Aumeier was extradited to Poland and in the Auschwitz-Trial in Krakow was condemned to death and executed in 1948. 

  • 1906 - 1948

Prisoner~Charlotte Delbo #31661

Charlotte Delbo,

(August 10, 1913- March 1, 1985),

Delbo with her camp number tattoo visible

French Resistance and Arrest

Upon arriving back in Paris, Delbo immediately involved herself with the resistance movement doing all she could do to denounce the Nazi regime that had not only taken over her country but moved to destroy an entire race. Much of her time was spent distributing anti-Nazi memos and pamphlets hoping to counteract the clouding of innocent minds by the Nazi propaganda and fear-instilling order. It is important to note that Delbo rose as an important female figure in the resistance movement even though her contribution was not particularly feminine. She was not following the lead of men, but working side by side with them. This is much in part because the goal of the Nazi regime and the Holocaust was to eliminate a race, not a gender and Delbo was determined to fight this injustice in France not just as a female, but as a human being.

Both Delbo and her husband became involved with Georges Politzer who was an active communist; the French police arrested all three on 2 March 1942 on a charge of distributing anti-German leaflets in Paris. The French turned them over to the Gestapo, who imprisoned them. Her husband was killed on 23 May 1942 after saying goodbye to Delbo as she was shipped off to a transit camp in Paris (it is unknown why Delbo's husband was killed before her). 

Convoy to Auschwitz

On 24 January 1943, Charlotte Delbo and 230 other Frenchwomen, the majority of whom were members of the resistance movement (very few were actually Jews), were put on a train from Compiegne to Auschwitz. Delbo recounts much of this journey in her novel Convoy to Auschwitz, which is a collection of assembled stories of every one of her fellow inmates as they traveled to Auschwitz. It was initially published in 1965 as Le Convoi du janvier. Delbo recalls the somewhat superficial optimism of her fellow travelers as they wrote home.

"We took out paper and pencils out of our bags and wrote notes: ‘“Would that person who finds this be kind enough to notify _____ (blank) in _____ (blank) that her daughter’ _____ (blank) or ‘his wife’ or ‘her sister’ – ‘Christine’ or ‘Suzanne’ or ‘Marcelle’- has been deported to Germany. We are in good spirits. See you soon.’” Viva always ended with ‘I will return,’ underlined." 

This somewhat superficial claim to “good spirits” adds an interesting element to their story. It impresses upon their belief in the cause for resistance and the fact that imprisonment was not going to damper they way they felt about the actions of the Nazi regime. These women were entrenched in their beliefs and call to justice. They had survived Vichy France and done all they could to combat the German forces there. Now they were headed to Auschwitz where they would be forced to confront the Nazis face to face and they were determined to remain positive about their cause.

Delbo recounts the first sight of Auschwitz: “Turning off the road, we were suddenly faced with barbed wire and watch towers. Barbed wire white like sugar crystals, watch towers black against the snow.”  Her convoy had heard stories of the unpleasant nature of the place they were headed and now at the first sight of the villainous world they would call home, there was an almost immediate transformation. Unfortunately for them, the stories they had heard could only provide so much and in order to imagine the truth of Auschwitz they were forced to experience it. They inmates had to prepare themselves for an unthinkable struggle as soon as they entered because without any remote preparation they would have lost all sense of life immediately.

Delbo’s convoy of women is very famous for the unique and unmistakeable entrance into Birkenau, the female side of Auschwitz; they were singing “la Marseillaise,” the national anthem of France, demonstrating their pride and faith in the nation they called home.  This was their first fight to retain a sense of humanity in a camp set on dehumanizing every one of them and it was their most noticeable claim to dignity and nationalism throughout their time in Auschwitz. The struggle to remain singing as they were driven into the camp mirrors their struggle for existence in the end. Regrettably, many more women sang as they were entering then stood when they were leaving. Acting to retain a sense of self was a fight that had to be fought, unfortunately it was one that was almost impossible to win. Without standing up and acting in the interest of self worth and being, the inmates would have inevitably lost all sense of autonomy. However, small acts kept it alive and in doing so kept them alive.

Stay in Auschwitz The front gates of Auschwitz from

Delbo’s first section of Auschwitz and After, “None of Us Will Return,” begins her journey into Auschwitz and describes much of the trepidation she experienced as an inmate. As she departs for Auschwitz she notes, “They (the women in her convoy) had no idea you could take a train to Hell but since they were there they took their courage in their hands ready to face what’s coming.”  Both Delbo and the other inmates were not just facing Hell, they were living it; “only those who enter the camp find out what happen to the others” and these women were trying to avoid the possibility of becoming “the others” because their fate was death. 

Upon entering the camp, “All were marked on their arm with an indelible number. All were destined to die naked.” This branding was the first mark of inhumane treatment and one that forged a lifetime of remembrance on the inmates. Delbo's claim in this quote is twofold: it is true that many of the inmates died naked however she is pointing towards a more metaphorical naked, one in which the inmates had been stripped of their humanity and forced to die as if they had never lived.

They walked in as human beings and within hours they were transformed into meaningless numbers treated like meaningless cattle destined for nothing more than the slaughterhouse. Delbo’s stay in Auschwitz was characterized by this constant quest to avoid what was thought to be the inevitable: a naked death. The conquest to avoid the fate of the others and persevere through Hell became the ultimate goal.

Much of the struggle to survive, exemplified in the following quote, was in finding the balance of surviving as an individual and surviving as a group:

"We did not move. The will to struggle and endure, life itself, had taken immediate refuge in a shrunken part of our bodies, somewhere in the immediate periphery of our hearts. We stood there motionless, several thousand women speaking a variety of languages from all over, huddled together, heads bowed under the snow’s stinging blasts." 

Delbo’s battle to survive was not fought alone. She fought as an individual to remain an individual, to retain a sense of remote autonomy, self-worth and being and she fought as a group to stay alive. This was a test because in order to stay alive the group took everything, but somehow an inmate had to salvage a part of themselves. In essence, fighting as an individual became the personal, inner war and fighting as a group the outer, physical war. In no way were the inmates confronting the Nazi camp leaders, rather their war with the Nazis was to withstand their vile actions. Her trial to balance this sense of individualism in a group points to the struggle faced by all inmates. Depending on oneself was the only assurance; however, it was necessary to depend on others. It was impossible to survive without both of these elements present in an inmate's life. Unfortunately even those who were able to balance these two aspects died simply because of the unbearable conditions they lived in. This balancing act was the only way to survive, however it could not keep one from dying.

In 1945 the Swedish chapter of the International Red Cross retained custody of Charlotte Delbo as well as many of the women who were fellow inmates in Auschwitz. They were taken to Sweden until they were able to recuperate from their time in the camp. After Delbo had regained strength she returned to France.

Gender Relations in Auschwitz

Although the living quarters for males and females in Auschwitz were different and Delbo provides most of her insight into the lives of women in Auschwitz, there is evidence to suggest that the treatment of inmates was uniform across all gender lines. Delbo discusses the lives of males in some accounts and distinguishes that, in the case of political prisoners, there was no distinction among men and women in the Holocaust in regards to the way they were treated.  The important category in Auschwitz and other extermination camps was not gender, in fact, the gender category did not exist; the focus of the Nazis was on the Jewish religion/race.

After World War II Delbo claims, “I must not be discussed as a woman writer. I am not a woman in my writing.” She told her friend Cynthia Haft that there was not “a distinctive female experience of the Holocaust” emphasizing “the camp system grants complete equality to men and women.”  Claiming that she is not a woman in her writing is a point Delbo insists the reader focuses on; she wants her account to be that of a human being who is not bounded by an subset divider like gender, because in Auschwitz there was no divider, only uniform suffering. One can gather the irony when Delbo states that "the camp system grants complete equality to men and women;" the Nazi goal was to create a world in which only Aryans ruled, an inherently unequal world.

However, in the camps set on destroying Jews and anyone who interfered with the Nazi movement, they had created a world in which each inmate received an equal amount of cruelty and anguish. Interestingly enough this was not a model that the Nazis followed with the Aryan race. They believed that there were explicit gender divisions among Aryans in regards to occupation and societal roles.

Gender divisions seem to be an idea reserved for the Aryans race, leading one to the thought that perhaps the Nazis did not feel as if the Jews and resistance leaders were worthy of such discrepancy. Ultimately this connects directly with the Nazi philosophy; they felt as if Jews were sub-human and destined to ruin the world. If they felt that gender division should be reserved for humans only, then they would not grant the "undesirables" such a privilege.

Much of the sociological research on gender relations/treatments during the Holocaust reveals exactly what Delbo was saying all along: that treatment was universal and not distinguished to a certain sex, but to certain people. Sociologists and Holocaust scholars argue against any research on the treatment of different genders during the Holocaust because they would distract from the intent of the Nazis; it was not to conquer a gender but to conquer the Jewish religion/race. 

Delbo’s role in the Holocaust is rather different because the Nazis weren’t attempting to exterminate the race of resistance movement members; rather they were attempting to silence them. Even though the treatment of Jews and non-Jewish resistance leaders was different in real life it was rather similar once they arrived in the death camps and not bound to a certain identity.

After Aushwitz celebrations after Paris is liberated 

After recovering, Delbo returned to France and was faced with yet another task: reintegrating herself into a world that could not understand her time in Auschwitz. Throughout World War II the French watched as homes were destroyed all over the country, doing nothing to preserve the only comfort many citizens would look for when they returned. Thus, the few inmates who returned often found their homes destroyed and the majority of the homes left after the liberation of Paris became government offices. Fortunately for Delbo, her childhood home was still in tact when she returned. Even though this home had not been destroyed, haunting memories of Auschwitz combined with pleasant memories of pre- World War II life made it a difficult transition. She recounts the terror in returning to the home in which her sister, who had died in Auschwitz, was born.

"All was still in its place in the house. Dedee’s [her dead sister’s] things here and there, her room; all was as it had been before…all becoming menacing. I didn’t know how to avoid contact with all those objects that encircled, assailed, hit me. How to flee, how to dissolve myself, to no longer be held by the past, bumping into walls, things, memories?"  (Quote from Delbo in Auslander's "Coming Home? Jews in Postwar Paris.")

Even though it was difficult to live in a home she once shared with her sister, it was even more difficult to create a home elsewhere because there would be no memories, good or bad. The memories that haunted her from her time in Auschwitz were more meaningful than a life without memory. There was no way to create a clean slate where she could write a new life, so Delbo was forced to add to her story, a story that for three years had been written for her.

This was a battle faced by any inmate fortunate enough to return from Auschwitz as they were on a constant quest to find a new life in which the memories of the death camp could live but one in which they would not hold them back. She began writing as soon as she regained her strength and recalls it being rather easy as her emotions just poured out in words. This was part of the reason Delbo decided to wait to publish the work, because she thought her words about the Holocaust would not do justice to the real event.

None of Us Will Return

Delbo wrote the first volume of her trilogy "Aucun de nous ne reviendra (None of Us Will Return)," a fusion of the experiences of female resistance leaders in the camp, with the hopes of connecting with a future generation. Even though she was one of the few survivors, Delbo explains the state of the prisoners in their Auschwitz world were “silence reigned.”  It was a world in which the livelihood of prisoners had been silenced amidst constant cruelty; this silence was not only an external blackout of sound but an internal emptiness of feeling. For Delbo, she was now determined to write about both silences and express what it was like not only to live in silence but to personally experience it.

"I was standing amid my comrades and I think to myself that if I ever return and will want to explain the inexplainable, I shall say: “I was saying to myself: you must stay standing through roll call. You must get through one more day. It is because you got through today that you will return one day, if you ever return.” This is not so. Actually I did not say anything to myself. I thought of nothing. The will to resist was doubtlessly buried in some deep, hidden spring which is now broken, I will never know. And if the women who died had required those who returned to account for what had taken place, they would be unable to do so. I thought of nothing. I felt nothing. I was a skeleton of cold, with cold blowing through all the crevices in between a skeleton’s ribs."

As Delbo was writing she realized that her words intended to make readers envision what universal concentration would be like; what the world would be like if everyone experienced constant suffering, death and everlasting subordination. However, this was an impossible task because universal concentration was not something one could experience in words and ideas, it was something one had to live first-hand. Even if she could not lend her readers an experience of constant barbarity she looked to the future: “I hope that these texts will make the reoccurrence of this horror impossible. This is my dearest wish.” . Whether Delbo realized that it was impossible for the world to feel universal concentration is unclear; what is clear is that Delbo was hopeful for the future and even if her words could not do exactly what she intended, they could provide encouragement for future generations to not allow this atrocity to occur again.

After this first volume poured out so quickly, Delbo decided to put it away in a drawer, to re-read and polish at a later time. However, “None of Us Will Return” remained untouched in that drawer for nearly twenty years. While the text lay alone in a drawer, unread and unrecognized, Delbo continued her professional life as a sociologist with a research group first in Geneva and then back in Paris. She claims her mother was her best friend throughout this time and those few survivors became part of her family. Just as her fellow inmates were her means to survive in Auschwitz, they became a means for her to survive after too.

Back to Reality: Resuming "Normal Life"

The next two volumes, written twenty years after the first, account for her struggle to return to the “normal life” she had once lived. For Delbo Auschwitz was always closing in on her life and it was a struggle to keep it from taking over.  But in returning to what once was, Delbo had to manage the extraordinary experience she had survived. Attempting to convey the evils of the Holocaust became a key portion of her return to life after Auschwitz. In her work Delbo was not trying to elicit some sort of sympathy from those who had not experienced the atrocity of a concentration camp, but for readers to “listen to the stories of those who have suffered evil” because too often they (readers) “fail[ed] to face suffering as suffering, fail[ed] to acknowledge the extremity of suffering as a result of evil action.” 

Lasting Implications Delbo laughing 

Through her work Delbo leaves the the reader and hopefully the world with a sense of the senseless. She points to the ever-present nature of evil while emphasizing the necessity for the human race to never accept that it must exist. True depravity is such an unfamiliar image to most and thus it is even more disturbing. Delbo’s phenomenology of evil distorts any ideas we can garner about its existence, demonstrating that any knowledge we have is limited and any knowledge one can gain (through suffering) is useless. . Unfortunately, there will be those who are forced to suffer through its existence and in their case the world must move to understand their situation.

One of her greatest contributions was her willingness to bridge two worlds separate from one another. Instead of isolating herself in a world that nobody could understand (simply because so few had lived it), Delbo attempted to explain the unexplainable with the intention that the untouched world would not lose their connection with the sufferers and the sufferers could grow to tell their story. In doing so Delbo hoped that those who had suffered the unimaginable would provide future generations with living proof that this madness could never occur again. The reason being was not for the sake of Delbo, but for the sake of humanity.

Delbo’s Auschwitz experience did not end there. After she faced and conquered many of the lasting imprints of her time in the death camp, working past the struggle to survive and gaining the will to move on, Delbo honored her compatriots, her fallen friends, who just as much kept her alive in Auschwitz as they did after by publishing the trilogy. It is in this trilogy that she recounts the equalizing value of Auschwitz, recognizing that it erased all identities and left anyone who could survive its horror with an everlasting sense of terror.

Charlotte Delbo died in 1985 from lung cancer. She never remarried and was survived by one son.

  • August 10, 1913- March 1, 1985

Prisoner~Marie-Claude Vaillant-Couturier

Marie-Claude Vaillant-Couturier,

(November 3, 1912 in Paris - December 11, 1996 in Paris),

whose real name was Marie-Claude Vogel, was a member of the French Resistance.

Marie-Claude Vaillant-Couturier's father, Lucien Vogel, an editor, created the magazine Vu in 1928; her mother, Cosette de Brunhoff, sister of the creator of Babar the Elephant, was a fashion photographer.

Marie-Claude Vaillant-Couturier chose to be a photographic reporter, at the time when the trade was uniquely male, which earned her the nickname of “the lady in Rolleiflex”. In 1934 she joined the Communist Youth Movement of France, and in 1936, the Union of the Girls of France. In 1934, she married Paul Vaillant-Couturier, founder of the Republican Association of Ex-servicemen, a communist and chief editor ofL'Humanité, who mysteriously disappeared in 1937. She entered the photo service of L'Humanité, for which she later took the responsibility, and got to know Gabriel Péri and George Cogniot.

Attached to the magazine Vu team, a photographer but also a Germanist, she took part, with the others, in an investigation in Germany into the rise of Nazism. It was at the time of this voyage in 1933, two months after the accession of Adolf Hitler to power, when she reported on the stereotypes of the concentration camps of Oranienburg and Dachau, published as of her return to France. She also carried out some reports for “"Regards”, in particular on the International Brigades. The prohibition of L'Humanité in September 1939 due to the Hitler-Stalin Pact, influenced her change of activities.

Resistance and deportation

She engaged in the resistance and participated in clandestine publications: leaflets such as l'Université Libre (first issued in November 1940),Georges Politzer's pamphlet Sang et Or (Blood and Gold) which presented the theses of the Nazi theorist Alfred Rosenberg (November 1941), a clandestine edition of L'Humanité with Pierre Villon (who she married in her second wedding in 1949). She strengthened the connection between the civil resistance (Committee of National Front Intellectuals to fight for the Independence of France) and the military resistance (the OS, later the FTPF) and she even transported explosives.

This resistance activity caused her to be arrested in a trap by Marshal Philippe Pétain's police on February 9, 1942, with many of her companions, among whom were Jacques Decour, Georges Politzer, Georges Solomon, Arthur Dallidet, all of whom were shot by the Nazis atFort Mont-Valérien. She was interned until February 15 at the Dépôt de la Préfecture, and on March 20 was placed in secret at La Santé Prison - here she stayed until August when she was transferred to the camp of Romainville, an internment camp under German authority. Like her companions, among whom were Danielle Casanova and Heidi Hautval, she was deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau via the internment camp of Compiègne in the convoy of January 24, 1943, said to be the convoy of "31000" (see the Memorial of the deportees of France to the title of repression, by the La Fondation pour la Mémoire de la Déportation, 2004 and The Convoy of January 24, by Charlotte Delbo, Midnight Editions, 1965). Singular by its composition, this convoy of 230 women, Resistance members, communists, Gaullist wives of resistance members, was illustrated in La Marseillaise by crossing the entrance of the camp of Birkenau; only 49 of these 230 women would return from the camps after the war.

She stayed in Auschwitz for 18 months, where she witnessed the genocide of the Jews and the Gypsies and took part in the international clandestine resistance committee of the camp. She was then transferred to the concentration camp of Ravensbrück in August 1944: first of all assigned to earthworks, she was transferred to Revier (the camp infirmary) because of her knowledge of the German language.

Ravensbrück was liberated on April 30, 1945 by the Red Army; however, she returned to France only on June 25, 1945. During these weeks, she devoted herself to the patients' repatriation. A June 16, 1945 article in Le Monde read, “Each day, this magnificent Frenchwoman makes the rounds, uplifting courage, giving hope where it is often but illusion. The word "holiness" comes to mind when one sees this grand sister of charity near these men and these women who are dying every day."

Social and political engagement

In 1945, she sat successively at the Provisional Consultative Assembly and at the two Constituent Assemblies and was elected French Communist Party (PCF) Member of Parliament for the Seine (1946-1958 ; 1962-1967), then for Val de Marne until 1973. She twice (1956-1958 ; 1967-1968) held the function of vice-president for the French National Assembly, for which she later became honorary vice-president.

In 1946, she was elected Secretary General of the International Democratic Federation of Women and, in 1979, was elected vice-president of the Union des femmes française (today Femmes Solidaires). She notably filed bills for the equality of wages between men and women. She was also allied with the Peace Movement.

In 1951, at the time of his trial against the newspaper Les Lettres Françaises (at the time a close relation of PCF) opposed to David Roussetafter the latter had been accused of being a “trotskyste falsifier” by the newspaper (following the comparison by David Rousset of the SovietGulag with the concentration camps). Marie-Claude Vaillant-Couturier declared “I indisputably regard the Soviet penitentiary system as the most desirable in the whole world” , a controversial declaration glorifying the impact of the Gulag.

A leading member of the National Federation of Resistant Deportees and Internees and Patriots since its creation in 1945, she became its vice-president, then co-president in 1978. She was also one of the first presenters of l'Amicale d’Auschwitz. A witness at the Nuremberg Trials, she said later, “by telling of the sufferings of those who could not speak any more, I had the feeling that, through my voice, those who they had tortured and exterminated, accused their torturers.” However, she returned from the trials “shocked, worried,” “exasperated by the procedure,” dissatisfied, in particular denouncing the absence, on the dock, of the leaders of the firms KruppSiemensIG Farben, firms which had largely taken part in the economic exploitation of the deportees. But in spite of these insufficiencies, she underlined later how much the definition crimes against humanity was “progress for the human conscience”.

In 1964, Paul Rassinier, father of negationism, a critic of the verdict of the trials and a holocaust survivor, accused her of having survived only by dispossessing her companions. Marie-Claude Vaillant-Couturier took action against these accusations and the lawsuit against Rassinier made justice of the charges. Geneviève de Gaulle-Anthonioz declared to the bar of witnesses “We entered the infirmary buildings not to hide, but because we needed courageous German speaking comrades. […] When we gave back this ration of bread deducted from our own ration, this bulb, we knew that she would give it well to those who needed it most and without any political appreciation […] I know few women as courageous as Marie-Claude, who always gave the feeling that her own life was nothing if she wasn't with the company of her comrades.” The manager of the extreme-right magazine Rivarol and Rassinier were condemned. During December of the same year, she defended in front of the French National Assembly the concept of imprescriptibility of the crimes against humanity, thus opening the way with the ratification, by France in 1968, of the Convention of United Nations on the imprescriptibility of these crimes.

In 1987, she called all the civil parties to testify against Klaus Barbie. During the creation of the Foundation for the Memory of the Deportation, in 1990, she was unanimously designated President, then President d' Honneur until her death on December 11, 1996.

Chevalier of the Légion d'honneur from December 20, 1945 - Officer in 1981, Commander in 1995 -, she was also a holder of the title of Combattante Volontaire de la Résistance et de décorations étrangères (Croix de Guerre Tchécoslovaque).

Testimony at the Nuremberg
Trials on Auschwitz

M. Dubost: What do you know about the Jewish transport that arrived from Romainville about the same time as you?

Vaillant-Couturier: When we left Romainville the Jewish women who were together with us remained behind. They were sent to Drancy, and finally arrived in Auschwitz, where we saw them again three weeks later. Of 1,200 who left, only 125 arrived in the camp. The rest were taken to the gas chambers immediately, and of the 125 not a single one was left by the end of a month.

The transports were carried out as follows: at the beginning, when we arrived, when a Jewish transport came there was a "selection." First the old women, the mothers and the children. They were told to get on trucks, together with the sick and people who looked weak. They kept only young girls, young women and young men; the latter were sent to the men’s camp.

In general, it was rare for more than 250 out of a transport of 1,000 to 1,500 to reach the camp, and that was the maximum; the others were sent to the gas chambers straight away.

At this "selection" healthy women between 20 and 30 years old were also chosen, and sent to the Experimental Block. Girls and women, who were a little older or not chosen for this purpose, were sent to the camp and, like us, had their heads shaved and they were tattooed.

In the spring of 1944 there was also a block for twins. That was at the time of the immense transport of Hungarian Jews, about 700,000** persons. Dr. Mengele, who was carrying out the experiments, kept back the twin children from all transports, as well as twins of any age, so long as both twins were there. Both children and adults slept on the floor in this block. I don’t know what experiments were made apart from blood tests and measurements.

M. Dubost: Did you actually see the "selection" when transports arrived?

Vaillant-Couturier: Yes, because when we were working in the Sewing Block in 1944, the block in which we lived was situated just opposite the place where the trains arrived. The whole process had been improved: Instead of carrying out the "selection" where the trains arrived, a siding took the carriages practically to the gas chamber, and the train stopped about 100 m. from the gas chamber. That was right in front of our block, but of course there were two rows of barbed wire between. Then we saw how the seals were taken off the trucks and how women, men and children were pulled out of the trucks by soldiers. We were present at the most terrible scenes when old couples were separated. Mothers had to leave their daughters, because they were taken to the camp, while the mothers and children went to the gas chambers. All these people knew nothing of the fate that awaited them. They were only confused because they were being separated from each other, but they did not know that they were going to their death.

To make the reception more pleasant, there was then – in June and July 1944, that is – an orchestra made up of prisoners, girls in white blouses and dark blue skirts, all of them pretty and young, who played gay tunes when the trains arrived, the "Merry Widow," the Barcarolle from the "Tales of Hoffmann," etc. They were told it was a labor camp, and as they never entered the camp they saw nothing but the small platform decorated with greenery, where the orchestra played. They could not know what awaited them.

Those who were taken to the gas chambers – that is, the old people, children and others – were taken to a red brick building.

M. Dubost: Then they were not registered?

Vaillant-Couturier: No.

Dubost: They were not tattooed?

Vaillant-Couturier: No, they were not even counted.

Dubost: Were you yourself tattooed?

Vaillant-Couturier: Yes.

(The witness shows her arm)

They were taken to a red brick building with a sign that said "Baths." There they were told to get undressed and given a towel before they were taken to the so-called shower room. Later, at the time of the large transports from Hungary, there was no time left for any degree of concealment. They were undressed brutally. I know of these particulars because I was acquainted with a little Jewess from France, who had lived on the Place de la Republique....

Dubost: In Paris?

Vaillant-Couturier: In Paris; she was known as "little Marie" and was the only survivor of a family of nine. Her mother and her seven sisters and brothers had been taken to the gas chambers as soon as they arrived. When I got to know her she worked on undressing the small children before they were taken into the gas chamber.

After the people were undressed they were taken into a room that looked like a shower room, and the capsules were thrown down into the room through a hole in the ceiling. An SS man observed the effect through a spy hole. After about 5 to 7 minutes, when the gas had done its job, he gave a signal for the opening of the doors. Men with gas-masks, these were prisoners too, came in and took the bodies out. They told us that the prisoners must have suffered before they died, because they clung together in bunches like grapes so that it was difficult to separate them....


Trial of the Major War Criminals before the International Military Tribunal, Nuremberg, 14 November 1945-1 October 1946,VI, Nuremberg, 1947, pp. 214-216.


* From the evidence of a Frenchwoman, Marie-Claude Vaillant-Couturier, who was a prisoner in the Auschwitz concentration camp, where she arrived on January 1, 1943.

** The correct number of Hungarian Jews sent to Auschwitz was about 430,000.

  • November 3, 1912~ December 11, 1996

Simone Sampaix


One of the youngest group of Mouflets. Sampaix Simone was born June 14, 1924 at Sedan in the Ardennes. 

At 8, she arrived in Paris with her parents, they will live at 25 rue Emile Devaux in the 19th district. Simone is the daughter of journalist Lucien Sampaix shot December 15, 1941.

While Lucien Sampaix is the prison of Health where he was imprisoned after his arrest, Simone tells her father's decision to take the relay in the Resistance. It is already the beginning of the occupation, in connection with "the Mouflets" and began to organize resistance.

Simone Sampaix will be included with two other young André Isidore Biver and Grinberg, a small group of three as was the safety rules of clandestine activity desired by the Resistance.

Simone carries newspapers, leaflets. Then comes the moment armed actions against the occupation in which it is a liaison and sometimes carries weapons.

The day the German rifle his father is a huge emotion in all popular area of the 19th.Simone mentioned that terrible moment when, with his comrades, she participated in the denunciation of this crime against her father: "Leaflets were fired in the night, we have distributed the following evening in the mailbox and pasted on walls, wherever my father was known, place of festivals, street Wood, Emile Desvaux, rue de Romainville, rue des Lilas and up instead of the Telegraph. "

On May 10, 1942, Simone Sampaix had an appointment with Andrew Grinberg Biver and Isidore. She did not know they had just been arrested.

She was stopped in turn three days later on her way to a place of repechage to try to reconnect with her two young friends. This place was unfortunately already trapped by the police. Conduct the first filing of the police headquarters, Simone was brought to Fort de Romainville August 27, 1942 where it remained until January 23, 1943.

On 24 January morning, 229 women with Simone, went by truck to Compiegne where a train was transported to Germany. This convoy was destined resistant to Auschwitz.

Simone was barely 18 years old when she set foot in this hell. She lived a life of a convict, in a terrible cold with hunger and inhumane physical and moral conditions. Often sick, on the threshold of death, she managed to survive thanks to the internal solidarity of the inmates.

On August 2, 1944, Simone with other deportees, was transferred to Camp Ravensbrük during a forced march.

Finally liberated by Allied troops, Simone was repatriated Sampaix June 10, 1945.

Of the 229 women in this convoy, only 49 survived.

Simone Sampaix died August 28, 1998 at Lurscy Levis (Allier), where her name was given to an alley of this city May 8, 2005, the anniversary of the capitalization of Nazi Germany.

Andrew Grinberg Biver and Isidore have both perished, sentenced to death after their arrest.



  • June 14, 1924~August 28, 1998

Danielle Casanova

Danielle Casanova 

(born as Vincentelli Perini, 9 January 1909 - 9 May 1943) was a French militant communist and member of the French resistance. She was responsible for the French Communist Youth before founding the Union des jeunes filles de France ("French Girls' Union", abbreviated UJFF hereinafter). She died in Auschwitz.

Vincentelli Perini trained at the Dental School in Paris. There she discovered the Union fédérale des étudiants ("Federal Union of Students"). She met her future husband Laurent Casanova in this organisation. In 1928 she joined the Communist Youth.

She began to call herself "Danielle" and quickly became Group Secretary to the Faculty of Medicine. Still studying, she joined the Central Committee of the movement at the Seventh Congress of June 1932, and took up its direction in February 1934 where she was the only woman. Faced with the rapid expansion of the Communist Youth, the Eighth Congress in Marseilles of 1936 charged her with creating the UJFF. This organisation, though still close to the Communist Youth, was aimed at creating a pacifistanti-fascist movement. She was elected Secretary General of the UJFF at its First Congress in December 1936, and organised a collection of milk for Spanish children who were victims of the Civil War.

After the French Communist Youth was banned in September 1939, Danielle Casanova went into hiding. She wrote for the newspaper Le Trait de l'Union. From October 1940, after the fall of France, she helped set up women's committees in the Paris region, while still writing for the underground press, especially Pensée Libre ("Free Thought"). She also founded la Voix des Femmes ("Women's Voice"). She organised demonstrations against the occupying forces, including the events of 8 November and 11 November 1940[1] caused by Professor Paul Langevin's arrest, and also that of 14 July 1941.

French Police arrested her on 15 February 1942 while she was aiding Georges Politzer and his wife. Transported to Auschwitz on 24 January 1943, she served in the camp infirmiary as a dentist. She did not stop campaigning, organising clandestine publications and events, even in aconcentration camp. She died of typhus.

  • 9 January 1909 - 9 May 1943

Pierre Georges aka Colonel Fabian


Pierre Georges was born in France in 1919. The son of a baker, he joined the Communist Party while only a teenager. At seventeen he volunteered to fight for the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War. Badly wounded, he returned to France in 1938 and soon became active in the Communist Youth movement.

Soon after Henri-Philippe Petain signed the armistice with Germany in June, 1940, Georges joined theFrances-Tireurs Partisans. It was organized as a pyramid and based on triangles of three members. This proved to be a flexible and relatively secure structure. Trade unionists were especially active in the group and they were heavily involved in industrial sabotage. Other targets included railway tracks, electricity cables and telephone lines.

On 21st August, 1941, Georges (now known as Colonel Fabien) shot and killed a German naval officer in the Paris subway. He also became an expert at blowing up trains. This led to his arrest but despite being tortured he managed to escape in June 1943.

After the D-day landings took place he helped to organize the planned insurrection. Pierre Georges was killed in fighting at Alsace on 27th December 1944.

Translated Thursday 1 September 2011, by Henry Crapo and reviewed by Henry Crapo

The act of the militant communist and resistance fighter who, at age 21, had already fought fascism in Spain, gives the signal for armed resistance against the occupying power.
It is still early, this morning of 21 August 1941, in Paris. At the metro station Barbès-Rochechouart, an officer of the Kreigsmarine [1] gets ready to board the train. Two shots are fired; he falls. This is the first act of armed resistance in occupied France. The author of this act, Pierre Felix Georges, will enter history under the name of Colonel Fabien.

Born in the 19th arrondissement of Paris, he is only 21 years old, but he has already fought fascism in Spain. At the end of the year 1936 he enlisted in the international brigades, lying about his age. He is a communist. The two shots fired by Fabien will carry a clear meaning. For the nazis now know, despite the active collaboration of the Pétain government, and the aid of the French police, directed by Bousquet, that they will never again be secure. For a part of the French populace, still faithful to Pétain, this will be a sign that the war continues. Certainly, from London, General de Gaulle had said so already on 18 June 1940. But it was a question of gathering together the forces of the colonial empire and to rebuild, starting in London, a fighting force, relying on the resistance network in France for information and for putting together auxiliary forces in preparation for the big day. The act of Fabien meant that the combat even in the heart of the capital, and in the cities, would pass through armed battle. It was also a major political act. The French resistance, for the French Communist Party, will be a peoples’ battle, on French soil. The implications of this decision will be considerable. Without it, all things considered, the liberation of Paris "by itself", as in the formulation of the general, might never have happened.
"Paris is cold, Paris is hungry, there are no chestnuts to eat in the streets, Paris in cast-off clothing," wrote Paul Éluard. Not so for everyone. The collaboration has become fully active, and it does not happen without some questions by public opinion. On the 12th, Pétain declares on the radio that he feels an ill wind blowing. "Worries mount in our minds, doubts assail our souls, the authority of my government is called in question." On the 14th, Vichy decrees that the magistrates and the military must swear loyalty to the maréchal. On the 20th, the French police, at the demand of the Germans, arrest 3,447 Jews, intern them in Drancy. On the morning of the 21st an official comminique announces: "Because of activities favoring the enemy, the Jew Samuel Tyszelman and the man called Henri Gautherot, both residents of Paris, have been condemned to death. They participated in a communist demonstration directed against the German occupation troops. In respect of this decision, they have been shot." They were both friends of Fabien.
For the French communists, the trouble over the German-Soviet pact of 1939 is a thing of the past. Not only because Germany has launched, beginning in June, its attack on the Soviet Union, but also because the repression of communists, starting in July 1940, leaves no place for ambiguity. For Vichy as for the nazis, the communists are the principal enemy. In October 1940 the communists created the OS (special organizations), with the aim of acting against the occupiers. On 15 May the PCF launches an appeal for the formation of a national front for the battle to liberate France, and attacks and sabotage, particularly against the railway installations, begin to multiply. But it is necessary to do more. The nazis, in September 1940, had designated hostages who would be executed in case of trouble. They executed some patroits. Jacques Bonsergent, who had "bumped into some German soldiers", in December 1940, André Masseron, who had sung la Marseillaise, 19 July 1941, Roger Roig, the 24th, who had made insulting remarks. The first such was certainly Etienne Dechanvanne, in Rouen, as early as July 1940.
A shock was necessary. It’s not so simple. Is it a good strategy? Fabien will set the example. This young man is already a seasoned veteran, had become an officer while in Spain, was seriously injured in 1938. Returned to Paris, he is an aircraft fitter, and marries Andrée Coudrier, who will be deported to Ravensbrück. Elected to the national council of Communist Youth, and is arrested at his factory, where the workers express their solidarity, and go on strike. He escapes, and begins to organize clandestine activities of the PCF in different regions. He comes back to Paris early in 1941, at the request of the leadership of the PCF. On 21 August, he fires his shots.
Fabien then sets up the first maquis [2] in France in the Doubs, which was attacked by the gendarmerie in October. He is injured again, in the head. He crosses the Doubs, swimming, and makes his way back to Paris. Arrested by the French police, he is tortured, then turned over to the Gestapo. He escapes from the Romainville Fort, and rejoins the combat with different groups of the maquis. In 1944 he is one of the important actors in the Paris insurrection. The group he commands becomes the 151st Infantry Regiment under the orders of General Delattre de Tassigny. The latter already predicted he would become general. On the 27 of September 1944, Pierre Georges, Colonel Fabien, is blown up by a mine, under conditions that are not clear. He was 25 years old.
[1] German naval forces

[2] armed resistance group, usually hiding out in the countryside

Colonel Fabien is also the name of the siege of the Communist Party in Paris. It was created by Oscar Niemeyer and represent a hammer and a sickle.


  • 1919~ 27th December 1944

Colonel Fabian Additional Information

ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Le Colonel Fabien, 21 août 1941: à Barbès-Rochechouart, Fabien tire

by Maurice Ulrich

Colonel Fabien, 21 August 1941: in Barbès-Rochechouart, Fabien Fires

Translated Thursday 1 September 2011, by Henry Crapo and reviewed by Henry Crapo

The act of the militant communist and resistance fighter who, at age 21, had already fought fascism in Spain, gives the signal for armed resistance against the occupying power.

It is still early, this morning of 21 August 1941, in Paris. At the metro station Barbès-Rochechouart, an officer of the Kreigsmarine  gets ready to board the train. Two shots are fired; he falls. This is the first act of armed resistance in occupied France. The author of this act, Pierre Felix Georges, will enter history under the name of Colonel Fabien.

Born in the 19th arrondissement of Paris, he is only 21 years old, but he has already fought fascism in Spain. At the end of the year 1936 he enlisted in the international brigades, lying about his age. He is a communist. The two shots fired by Fabien will carry a clear meaning. For the nazis now know, despite the active collaboration of the Pétain government, and the aid of the French police, directed by Bousquet, that they will never again be secure. For a part of the French populace, still faithful to Pétain, this will be a sign that the war continues.

Certainly, from London, General de Gaulle had said so already on 18 June 1940. But it was a question of gathering together the forces of the colonial empire and to rebuild, starting in London, a fighting force, relying on the resistance network in France for information and for putting together auxiliary forces in preparation for the big day.

The act of Fabien meant that the combat even in the heart of the capital, and in the cities, would pass through armed battle. It was also a major political act. The French resistance, for the French Communist Party, will be a peoples’ battle, on French soil. The implications of this decision will be considerable. Without it, all things considered, the liberation of Paris "by itself", as in the formulation of the general, might never have happened.

"Paris is cold, Paris is hungry, there are no chestnuts to eat in the streets, Paris in cast-off clothing," wrote Paul Éluard. Not so for everyone. The collaboration has become fully active, and it does not happen without some questions by public opinion. On the 12th, Pétain declares on the radio that he feels an ill wind blowing. "Worries mount in our minds, doubts assail our souls, the authority of my government is called in question."

On the 14th, Vichy decrees that the magistrates and the military must swear loyalty to the maréchal. On the 20th, the French police, at the demand of the Germans, arrest 3,447 Jews, intern them in Drancy. On the morning of the 21st an official comminique announces: "Because of activities favoring the enemy, the Jew Samuel Tyszelman and the man called Henri Gautherot, both residents of Paris, have been condemned to death. They participated in a communist demonstration directed against the German occupation troops. In respect of this decision, they have been shot." They were both friends of Fabien.

For the French communists, the trouble over the German-Soviet pact of 1939 is a thing of the past. Not only because Germany has launched, beginning in June, its attack on the Soviet Union, but also because the repression of communists, starting in July 1940, leaves no place for ambiguity. For Vichy as for the nazis, the communists are the principal enemy. In October 1940 the communists created the OS (special organizations), with the aim of acting against the occupiers.

On 15 May the PCF launches an appeal for the formation of a national front for the battle to liberate France, and attacks and sabotage, particularly against the railway installations, begin to multiply. But it is necessary to do more.

The nazis, in September 1940, had designated hostages who would be executed in case of trouble. They executed some patroits. Jacques Bonsergent, who had "bumped into some German soldiers", in December 1940, André Masseron, who had sung la Marseillaise, 19 July 1941, Roger Roig, the 24th, who had made insulting remarks. The first such was certainly Etienne Dechanvanne, in Rouen, as early as July 1940.

A shock was necessary. It’s not so simple. Is it a good strategy? Fabien will set the example. This young man is already a seasoned veteran, had become an officer while in Spain, was seriously injured in 1938. Returned to Paris, he is an aircraft fitter, and marries Andrée Coudrier, who will be deported to Ravensbrück.

Elected to the national council of Communist Youth, and is arrested at his factory, where the workers express their solidarity, and go on strike. He escapes, and begins to organize clandestine activities of the PCF in different regions. He comes back to Paris early in 1941, at the request of the leadership of the PCF. On 21 August, he fires his shots.

Fabien then sets up the first maquis  in France in the Doubs, which was attacked by the gendarmerie in October. He is injured again, in the head. He crosses the Doubs, swimming, and makes his way back to Paris.

Arrested by the French police, he is tortured, then turned over to the Gestapo. He escapes from the Romainville Fort, and rejoins the combat with different groups of the maquis. In 1944 he is one of the important actors in the Paris insurrection. The group he commands becomes the 151st Infantry Regiment under the orders of General Delattre de Tassigny. The latter already predicted he would become general. On the 27 of September 1944, Pierre Georges, Colonel Fabien, is blown up by a mine, under conditions that are not clear. He was 25 years old.

Politzer Marie (nee Larcade)

Politzer Marie (nee Larcade)

15 August 1905~ 6 March 1943

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Politzer Marie (nee Larcade), also known as "  Mai Politzer  ", born 15  August  1905 in Biarritz ( France ) and died on  March  1943 to Auschwitz ( Poland ), is a militant communist and resistant French, married to Georges Politzer , philosopher born French Hungarian .


Mai Politzer was a midwife .

Arrested by the Germans, she was transferred to Auschwitz by the convoy of 24 January 1943 together with other French resistance and mostly non-Jewish Communists, including many widows shot, as Helene Solomon , daughter of the scientist Paul Langevin and wife of the writer Jacques Solomon .

She died of typhus a March 6, 1943.

As for Georges, the words "death to France" was given to the Mai Politzer May 18 1946 . The titles of "internal" and "deported resistance fighters" were recognized him on 5 June 1956 .

Politzer, Georges (1903-1942)

Georges Politzer was born in Nagyvarad, Hungary (currently Oradea, Romania) on May 3, 1903. He left his homeland after the defeat of Bela Kun’s abortive Soviet Republic, settling in France in 1921. In the course of his travels he had met Freud and Sandor Ferenczi in Vienna, and his interest in psychology was to result in the publication in 1928 of his “Critique des fondements de la psychologie” (Critique of the Foundations of Psychology). This work was the first outline of a materialist theory of social psychology, and was one of the influences on Vygotsky in the 1920s.

In France he taught in the cities of Moulins, Evreux and at Saint-Maur, all the while active in the teachers’ union. Sometime between 1929-31 (Party sources mention his being accepted on his second attempt at joining) he joined the French Communist Party, where he was in charge of the Economic Commission of the Central Committee. He taught at both the Workers’ University and the PCF’s central school, and was among the founding group of the revue La Pensée.

In September 1940, with France occupied, he entered the fight against the Nazis and launched two clandestine journals:L’Université Libre and La Pensée Libre, which he wrote for under the pen name Rameau. It was for the latter that he wrote his famous attack on Alfred Rosenberg: “L’Obscurantisme au XXe siecle” (Obscurantism in the 20th Century)

Along with his wife Mai, also a Communist and Resistance fighter, he was arrested in February 1942 for violation of the law banning the Communist Party. While imprisoned at Santé prison in Paris he was in a cell next to that of the celebrated Communist and Resistance member Marie-Claude Vaillant-Couturier. In her testimony at the Nuremberg War Crimes trial Vaillant-Couturier spoke of Politzer’s prison experience: “Georges Politzer told me that during his interrogation, after having beaten him, he was asked if he didn’t want to write theoretical pamphlets for National-Socialism. When he refused they told him he would be put on the first train of hostages to be executed.”

On March 20, 1942 he was turned over to the Nazis and, as threatened, he was executed with a group of hostages on May 23,1942. His wife was transported to Auschwitz, where she died in March 1943.

  • 15 August 1905~ 6 March 1943

Door to Gas Chamber

Where They Burned Bodies

Corpses of Women Piled Up on the Floor of Block 11

A Physician and a Little Girl in Trzebinia, a Sub-Camp of Auschwitz


Documentation of the Extermination Process at Auschwitz-Birkenau:

An Historic Photographic
Documentation of the Extermination Process at Auschwitz-Birkenau:

An SS has the woman (whose hair is covered in the tradition of an Orthodox Jewish wife) with her infant child to join those being sent to the crematoria. We also can see a man that is standing between the columns missing his pants and one shoe. This was a common ocurrence in the overcrowded boxcars. On the left stand inmates in striped camp clothing. The main gate to Birkenau Camp under which the train pass is at the rear left of this historic photograph.

Both Sides Speaking Out


 Jack Oran, a Holocaust survivor, relates:

"Everyone worked so hard, got beaten up…and came back to the camp -- the exhaustion alone pushed him to the bunk to lie down and sleep throughout the night and get enough strength so that s/he might be able to do that again tomorrow. …In the morning, sixty percent of the six people [in the bunk] did not wake up. The other forty percent went over the pockets of the dead people to find a piece of bread…The hygienic condition was very, very poor in that period. I remember that I searched a dead body in the bunk and I found a piece of bread. That piece of bread was crawling with lice and you shook them off the bread and put it in your mouth and ate it. We all were crawling with lice. Taking a shower was not an option. To get out in the morning, to walk toward the barrack where there is water, running water &endash; you didn't want to walk through mud. If you walked through the mud you probably lost a shoe and then you had to go barefoot. So it would be damned if I do and damned if I don't. Those were the conditions."

Ovadiah Baruch, a young Jewish prisoner who was deported to Auschwitz from Greece, notes that the support of his friends helped him survive. He states:

"During the death marches [from Auschwitz] we were three friends, Yom Tov Eli, Michael and I. We were connected heart and soul. Throughout the whole time we were prisoners in Auschwitz we stayed in close contact….During the death marches, Michael developed dysentery. He was so weak that he could barely continue to walk, and he begged us to go on without him. Yom Tov Eli and I insisted that we would carry him and support him as best as we could."

"On arrival at the "Cottage," they were told to undress. At first they went calmly into the rooms where they were supposed to be disinfected. But some of them showed signs of alarm, and spoke of death by suffocation and of annihilation. A sort of panic set in at once. Immediately all the Jews still outside were pushed into the chambers, and the doors were screwed shut. With subsequent transports the difficult individuals were picked out early on and most carefully supervised. At the first signs of unrest, those responsible were unobtrusively led behind the building and killed with a small-calibre gun that was inaudible to the others. "

(From the testimony of Rudolph Hoess, Commandant of Auschwitz)

Olga Albogen, a Holocaust survivor, relates to her family's arrival in Auschwitz in the following way, "…We didn't even say goodbye to Mother and the little ones. We just had some food yet from home and I gave it to my mother and said, "We'll see you tonight." And that was it and I never saw them again. It was such a commotion there in Auschwitz… So many people…And when they emptied the wagons, thousands and thousands and trains kept on coming from all over Europe, not just Hungary. It was just unbelievable."

Fact Sheet Supplement:

"There is a place on earth that is a vast desolate wilderness,
a place populated by shadows of the dead in their multitudes,
a place where the living are dead, where only death, hate and pain exist."
--Giuliana Tedeschi
Vast labour and death camp killed up to 6,000 a day


Auschwitz I --Concentration Camp; Auschwitz II --Extermination Camp
(Credit: Dutch Holocaust website <> of Hans Vanderwerff and Sion Soeters.)

.From Yad Vashem

· German forces occupying Poland set up Auschwitz in 1940 as a labour camp for Polish prisoners, gradually expanding it into a vast labour and death camp;

· The complex contained three camps and at least 40 sub-camps, built outside the town of Oswiecim between 1940 and 1942;

· Auschwitz I was built for Polish political prisoners in June 1940;

Hungarian Jews lined up on the train platform, upon arrival, at Auschwitz II --Birkenau camp.
Majority of them will be sent straight to the gas chambers.
· Auschwitz II - Birkenau, was built in October 1941. It held more than 100,000 prisoners and housed gas chambers capable of disposing of 2,000 people a day. By 1944 some 6,000 people a day were being killed;

· Auschwitz III - Monowitzsupplied forced labour for the nearby IG Farben plant, the company which made the Zyklon-B gas used in Nazi death camps;

· Minor articles printed in U.S. and European newspapers in the early 1940s attest perhaps that Allied countries were somewhat aware of the camp and the deaths occurring there, yet did nothing either further to investigate or to act.***

· In all, 1.1 million people died during the four and a half years of Auschwitz's existence; one million of them were Jewish men, women and children.

· Only an estimated 11 percent of Jewish children who were alive in 1933 survived the Holocaust.

· In total 90 percent of the Jewish population in Poland died --some 2.8 million people.

· Other groups who died included Polish political prisoners, Soviet prisoners of war, Romanies ("Gypsies"), people with disabilities, homosexuals and prisoners of conscience or religious faith;

· The decision to kill Europe's Jews was formulated in late 1941, and Nazi officials at the Wannsee Conference in January 1942 coordinated the apparatus of mass murder.



· Gassing with Zyklon B began in autumn 1941.

· A Star of David was placed above the entrance to the gas chamber and a sign was painted in Hebrew on a purple curtain covering the entrance to the gas chamber that said "This is the Gateway to God. Righteous men will pass through."

· Most victims were murdered in six extermination camps. Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland was the largest and at least 1.1 million Jews were killed there before its liberation by the Soviet Red Army on Jan. 27, 1945.

· An estimated 5.5 million other victims of Nazi atrocities -- labelled "enemies of the German state" -- included up to half a million Romanies ("Gypsies"), an estimated 10,000-15,000 homosexuals and 3 million non-Jewish Poles. Catholic and Protestant clergy also were sent to concentration camps as well as Jehovah's Witnesses.

· Some Holocaust researchers fault the wartime allies for not bombing the railway tracks that brought Jews from across Europe to the camps. Survivors lament what Nobel prize-winning author Elie Wiesel describes as shameful indifference to mass murder.

· The United States and Britain garnered much intelligence about the camps, other historians say, but their priority was a total military defeat of Nazi Germany, not rescuing European Jews.

· The camp was liberated by Soviet soldiers on January 27 1945;

· About 200,000 inmates of the camp between 1940 and 1945 survived;

· Out of a total of about 7,000 guards at Auschwitz, including 170 female staff (the most infamous was Irma Grese, the 20-year-old daughter of a dairyman), 750 were prosecuted and punished after Nazi Germany was defeated.

· More people died in Auschwitz than the British and American losses of World War Two combined.

· About 60 million Reichmarks - equivalent to £125m today - was generated for the Nazi state by slave labour at Auschwitz.

· A unit in Auschwitz where valuables snatched from incoming prisoners were kept was known as Canada, because Canada was thought to be a land of untold riches.

· Nazis at Auschwitz offered some non-Jewish female prisoners the option of 'light work'. As the women soon discovered, 'light work' meant prostitution.

· To lull new arrivals at Treblinka death camp into believing they were only in transit, plants were placed on the railway station and at the entrance to the gas chambers.

· The train ramp was disguised to look like a regular railway station with signs, timetables and even a clock painted on the wall.

· Josef Mengele's scientific experiments at Auschwitz often involved studies of twins. If one twin died, he would immediately kill the other and carry out comparative autopsies.

· Denmark was the only Nazi-occupied country that managed to save 95% of its Jewish residents. Following a tip-off by a German diplomat, thousands of Jews were evacuated to neutral Sweden.

· Some Jewish prisoners secretly wrote eye-witness accounts of the atrocities of the gas chambers and hid them in bottles or metal containers buried in the ground. A number of these accounts were discovered after the war.


1945, Auschwitz After Liberation: Burying the Dead
Sources: Reuters/Oxford Companion to the Second World War/BBC

***United States National Archives
Allies May Have Known of Holocaust Plans:
<> . . .  

S u b c a m p s


IG Farben had a factory, built in Dwory near Auschwitz because this place offered security from air-raids, the coal mines were near and the existence of Auschwitz concentration camp made it possible to receive as many cheap labourers as necessary. In April 1941, inmates of Auschwitz started building the Buna-plants in Dwory. At the beginning, the slave workers had to walk the whole distance from Auschwitz to their work-place, one direction measured seven kilometres. Due to difficulties with these transports, like exhaustion of the prisoners which led to a fall in of the work power, IG Farben decided to build a special camp for the prisoners working in the Buna plants: This subcamp of Auschwitz was settled in an evacuated village named Monowice. At the end of October 1942, the prisoners were transferred to Monowice. Until November 1943, the camp was called "Bunalager" (camp Buna) and belonged to Auschwitz concentration camp. Since November 1943, Monowice contained its own command headquarter Auschwitz III. It comprised 28 camps, which developed in the years 1942 to 1944 mainly in Silesia close to mines, metallurgical plants and other industrial zones. Those were the subcamps built between 1942 and 1944:

Goleschau (cement factory)

Jawischowitz (coal mine)

Chelmek (shoe factory)



"Eintrachthütte" (ironworks)

"Neu-Dachs" (electric power plant and pits were built)

"Janinagrube" and "Fürstengrube (coal mines)

Lagischa (building of a power station)



"Charlottegrube" in Ledziny and Rydultowy (coal mines)

"Günthergrube" (coal mine)

Bismarckhütte and Laurahütte (ironworks)

Gleiwitz I und III (ironworks and metallurgical plants)




Gleiwitz II (chemical factories)

Althammer (power plant)

Neustadt and Lichterwerde in "Reichsprotektorat" Bohemia and Moravia (textile factories)

Freudenthal in Bohemia and Moravia (food industry)

The working conditions in the subcamps were generally very hard. Though the industrial branches varied and the works were diverse, the prisoners had to work physically hard. Mostly they were assigned to building- or transport works. The conditions vere especially unsatisfactory by the lack of mechanisation in the plants. Also, they had no protective working clothes. In some subcamps, the SS used the inmates for the removal of blind bombs, which layed around on the areas of bombed industrial zones. Those who directly worked in the production had better conditions: they were not exposed to the weather, but employed on dangerous and physically hard jobs.

The treatment of prisoners in the subcamps varied according to the labour assignments the inmates worked in. Within building and digging works, the guards had more chances to beat the inmates than at machines which required a steady work-rhythm.

Museum Publication

Not many of the prisoners of the Nazi German Auschwitz concentration camp lived to see liberation. Local residents helped them, sometimes at the cost of their own lives, in the unequal struggle to survive.

Museum historians have managed to establish the names of over 1,200 Poles from O?wi?cim and the vicinity who aided prisoners. The Germans arrested at least 177 people in revenge. Sixty-two of them perished in Auschwitz and other concentration camps. One of the newest Museum publications is devoted to the memory of these people who helped prisoners.

Niezwykli O?wi?cimianie. Jak ratowano wi??niów KL Auschwitz [Extraordinary people from O?wi?cim: how they aided Auschwitz prisoners] arose as an initiative by the former prisoners who belong to the Auschwitz Preservation Society. This slender volume is a supplement to Ludzie dobrej woli [People of good will], published last year.

This valuable testimony protects these heroic O?wi?cim residents from being forgotten. It is all the more significant because it is one of the first attempts, along with Ludzie dobrej woli, at an overall presentation of the subject.

Accounts by Jewish and Polish former prisoners are enriched by the accounts and biographies of residents of O?wi?cim and nearby localities who helped the prisoners by supplying them with food and medicine. Excerpts from secret messages, delivered by local residents as a way of making it possible to stay in touch with their families, bear direct witness to history.

The many people who distinguished themselves in this effort include Julia Ilisi?ska of O?wi?cim, Helena P?otnicka of Brzeszcze, and Father Jan Skarbek of O?wi?cim, who headed the local Roman Catholic parish. There is also a noteworthy interview with Bronis?aw Jacek Stupka, who joined the aid effort as a boy of six.

The book concludes with an interview with Professor W?adys?aw Bartoszewski on the contemporary state of knowledge about Polish participation in the rescue of Auschwitz prisoners. Two other interviews, with Museum historians Henryk ?wiebocki and Piotr Setkiewicz, provide insight into the social and political situation in occupied O?wi?cim.

The publication of Niezwykli O?wi?cimianie fills a gap in our knowledge about the civilians living near the camp, and their reaction to the crimes being committed there. It is also an attempt at according at least partial justice to the people who risked their lives to aid the prisoners of the Nazis.

The book is accompanied by a 30-minute film on DVD, containing narratives and accounts by participants in those events, accompanied by commentaries by historians. The Museum will surely use the material contained in this book in its planned exhibition devoted to heroic local O?wi?cim residents.


Posted by valeria on January 27, 2011 · 

During the Holocaust, the systematic persecution and murder of approximately six million Jews by the Nazi regime and its collaborators ( ”Holocaust” is a word of Greek origin meaning “sacrifice by fire“), concentration camp prisoners received tattoos only at the Auschwitz concentration camp complex.

It was the largest of its kind established by the Nazi regime. It included three main camps, all of which deployed incarcerated prisoners at forced labor: these main camps consisted of Auschwitz I (Main Camp), Auschwitz II (Auschwitz-Birkenau), and Auschwitz III (Monowitz and the subcamps). Incoming prisoners were assigned a camp serial number which was sewn to their prison uniforms. Only those prisoners selected for work were issued serial numbers; the prisoners sent directly to the gas chambers were not registered and received no tattoos. 

Initially, the SS authorities marked prisoners who were in the infirmary or who were to be executed with their camp serial number with indelible ink.

 As prisoners were executed or died in other  various ways, their clothing bearing the camp serial number was removed. So,there was no way to identify the bodies after the clothing was removed. Thus, the SS ( theSchutzstaffel, the major paramilitary organization under Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party) introduced the practice of tattooing in order to identify the bodies of registered prisoners who had died.

Originally, a special metal stamp, holding interchangeable numbers made up of needles approximately one centimeter long was used. This allowed the whole serial number to be punched at one blow onto the prisoner’s left upper chest.

When the metal stamp method proved impractical, a single-needle device was introduced, which pierced the outlines of the serial-number digits onto the skin. The site of the tattoo was changed to the outer side of the left forearm. However, prisoners from several transports in 1943 had their numbers tattooed on the inner side of their left upper forearms. Tattooing was generally performed during registration when each prisoner was assigned a camp serial number.

Tattooing was introduced at Auschwitz in the autumn of 1941.

At Auschwitz II (Birkenau), the SS staff introduced the practice of tattooing in March 1942 to keep up with the identification of large numbers of prisoners who arrived, sickened, and died quickly. The majority of registered prisoners in the Auschwitz complex were Jews. In the spring of 1943, the SS authorities adopted the practice of tattooing almost all previously registered and newly arrived prisoners, including female prisoners(the first female prisoners arrived in March of 1942).

Exceptions to this practice were prisoners of German nationality and “reeducation prisoners”. “Reeducation prisoners,” or “labor-education prisoners,” were non-Jewish persons. These prisoners had either refused to work at forced labor or had been accused of working in a manner that was not found satisfactory. They were sent to the concentration camps or to special “Labor Education Camps” (Arbeitserziehungslager) for a specified period of time not to exceed 56 days. 

The first series of prisoner numbers was introduced in May 1940, well before the practice of tattooing began. This first series was given to male prisoners and remained in use until January 1945, ending with the number 202,499. Until May 1944, male Jewish prisoners were given numbers from this series. A new series of registration numbers was introduced in 1941 and remained in use until 1945. The numbering scheme was divided into “regular,” AU, Z, EH, A, and B series’. The “regular” series consisted of a consecutive numerical series that was used to identify Poles, Jews, and most other prisoners (all male). Following the introduction of other categories of prisoners into the camp, the numbering scheme became more complex. The “AU” series denoted Soviet prisoners of war, while the “Z” series (with the “Z” standing for the German word for gypsy, Zigeuner) designated the Romani. These identifying letters preceded the tattooed serial numbers after they were instituted. “EH” designated prisoners that had been sent for “reeducation” (Erziehungshäftlinge).

A third series of numbers was introduced in March 1942 with the arrival of the first female prisoners. Approximately 90,000 female prisoners were identified with a series of numbers created for female prisoners in March 1942 until May 1944.

In May 1944, numbers in the “A” series and the “B” series were first issued to Jewish prisoners. The “A” series was to be completed with 20,000; however an error led to the women being numbered to 25,378 before the “B” series was begun. Each new series of numbers introduced at Auschwitz began with “1.” Some Jewish prisoners had a triangle tattooed below their serial number.

A separate series of numbers was introduced in January 1942 for “reeducation” prisoners who had not received numbers from the general series. Numbers from this new series were assigned retroactively to “reeducation” prisoners who had died or been released, while their superseded general-series serial numbers were reassigned to new “general” arrivals. Approximately 9,000 prisoners were registered in the “reeducation” series. Beginning in 1943, female “reeducation” prisoners were given serial numbers from their own new series. There were approximately 2,000 serial numbers in this series.


Casting of Majdanek gas chamber door Desecrated Torah scrolls Danish rescue boat Bible from Le Chambon pastor who saved Jews Romani (Gypsy) woman's skirt Granite quarried in Mauthausen "St. Louis" photo album Bible found at liberation Julian Noga's prisoner uniform jacket Antisemitic children's book Sign excluding Jews from public places Hotel Reichshof flyer Boots issued to Jacob Polak by the Red Cross Doll from the Krakow ghetto Knife made by Yona Wygocka Dickmann Comb made by Yona Wygocka Dickmann Election poster Abraham Lewent's prisoner jacket Karel Bruml's concentration camp cap Hana Mueller's concentration camp skirt Pages of Hebrew prayer books damaged during Kristallnacht Cover of a Japanese-German phrase book North-China Daily News photo showing Jewish Refugees in Shanghai, China Illustration from tourist guide to Kobe and its environs Tourist pamphlet about Kobe, Japan Religious articles found on death march victim Alice (Lisl) Winternitz's luggage tag Poster advertising anti-Jewish boycott Pants belonging to Marjan Glass White armband with blue Star of David Matchbox cover with Japanese propaganda illustration White armband with blue Star of David Matchbox cover with Japanese propaganda illustration Map of Kobe, Japan, from tourist guide to Kobe Matchbox cover with Japanese propaganda illustration Japanese-German phrase book (interior) Matchbox cover with Japanese propaganda illustration Candlesticks taken to Vilna by Polish Jewish refugees Tourist guide to Kobe, Japan (cover) Trans-Siberian Express brochure (cover) Matchbox cover with Japanese propaganda illustration Refugee's suitcase Backpack belonging to Ruth Berkowitz Rope used in hanging Album page Album page Album page Album page Album page

Auschwitz survivor, 79, Tells her Story for Holocaust Memorial Day

The numbers on her left arm are fading, but will never disappear.

Neither will the terrible memories of the day the doors of the packed cattle truck slid open and Lilly Ebert, or prisoner A10572, realised she was at Auschwitz.

Today, a day before Holocaust Memorial Day marks the 65th anniversary of its liberation, Mrs Ebert is determined that the world never forgets what happened at the largest Nazi death camp, where 1.1 million lost their lives.

“We talk about our story because something like that should never, ever happen again,” said Mrs Ebert, now a great grandmother living in Golders Green.

“One thing the world has to know is that it makes no difference what colour you are, what nationality.”

Now 79, she was 14 when she was taken from the Hungarian town of Bonyhad with her mother, brother and three sisters to Auschwitz.

Lilly, Renee and Piri went right. Her mother Nina, brother Bela and sister Berta went left. She never saw them again.

“When we arrived in Auschwitz-Birkenau they opened the doors of the trucks,” she said.

“We were half-dead but we had to quickly stand five in a row. There was a man with a stick in his hand. It was Dr Mengele. At this time I didn't know who he was but I later found out.”

Dr Josef Mengele was a physician at Auschwitz who became known as the Angel of Death for his brutal experiments on inmates. It was July 1944.

Mrs Ebert continues: “With one movement of his hand he sent the people right or left — to life or death. The people who were sent to the left were taken immediately to the crematorium.”

Mrs Ebert has spent many of her later years telling her story.

Many survivors stayed silent for years, not wanting their families to know the extent of the horrors they had experienced.

Her granddaughter, Nina Forman, said: “It was taboo for many years. It's only recently that survivors started speaking about it. They didn't want to hurt their own children.”

Mrs Ebert and her sisters were sent to work, but were fed so little that they almost starved to death.

“The aim was that no one should survive,” she says. “The aim was not that after 65 years I would be here to tell this story.”

Mrs Ebert continues: “When we came out from the shower, our hair was cut and our belongings taken away. They left us with only our shoes. We saw a fire in the chimneys, and a terrible smell.

"We asked people who were already there. They told us it was not a factory. They said it was our parents and brothers and sisters who were being burned.”

Her only remaining possession from that time is a gold pendant given to her as a child by her mother. The guards ordered valuables to be handed over but her brother hid it in the heel of a shoe. She wears it today in memory of her family.

After about four months in Auschwitz, the girls were transferred to an ammunition factory near Leipzig.

The city was liberated by US forces the following year. The girls fled to Switzerland. Mrs Ebert came to London in 1967 with her husband and three children.

Another brother, Imre, had been taken to a labour camp after the German invasion of Hungary in March 1944.

It was not until 1953 that they were reunited. Mrs Ebert says: “Auschwitz was really a factory for killing, and human beings were used as fuel. I survived and promised myself, I will tell the world what happened.”

But she added: “I thought, if the world knew what happened, they would not allow it to happen. But I was mistaken. The world knew about it and the world was silent.”

A Woman's Miraculous Birth in the Death Camp of Auschwitz.

Honor thy mother. That's the motto Angela Polgar has tried to live by all her life -- a life that began in a death camp. The place was Auschwitz-Birkenau, in southern Poland. Her parents, Hungarian Jews, arrived there on a Nazi transport on May 25, 1944.

Polgar's mother, Vera Bein, nee Otvos, was 25 years old at the time and almost two months pregnant.

On the infamous railway platform where "selections" were made, Bein, as Polgar respectfully calls her, was not sent to the gas chambers. Instead, she was assigned to a variety of gruelling work details before becoming a guinea pig for sterilization experiments by a camp doctor.

By the horrific standards of the Holocaust, it's an ordinary story, perhaps -- except for one thing. The patient survived, and so did her child.

On Dec. 21 Bein felt labour pains. She climbed to the top bunk in her barrack, and there, aided by two other inmates, gave birth in secret to a baby girl.

The infant was tiny, weighing only one kilogram; she was too weak to cry but strong enough to drink the meagre offering from her mother's breast, and somehow survived the next few weeks in hiding.

The only other infant survivor, according to Auschwitz museum records, was a Hungarian boy, Gyorgy Faludi, born the day of liberation with the help of a Russian doctor.

Soviet Red Army troops liberated the camp on Jan. 27, 1945. Baby and mother were among the survivors, and they were an unusual sight -- indeed, almost unique.

Angela Polgar has decided now is the right time to tell Canadians her family's remarkable story. She isn't doing it to shine light on herself; she even refuses to have her picture taken, for fear people would accuse her of self-aggrandizement.

Rather, she wants to honor her mother, a woman who never liked to talk about her experience because she thought it would be a burden to her daughter. "She was a very, very special lady," said Polgar, a former clothing store owner who lives in Montreal with her husband, Joseph.

"My mother felt so terrible for all the people who had lost their children. They lost their babies, and she brought one back," Polgar said. "And at the same time she didn't want me to have the memories she had. So she didn't talk about it."

Telling it now is a release -- and a duty. "It has nothing to do with me, this story. She did it. She's the one who went through all this."

And so Angela Polgar begins her story.

That both mother and daughter survived at all is a miracle in itself. About 1.1 million people, mostly Jews, were exterminated at Auschwitz between the start of the organized killing in March 1942 and its end in November 1944. The death machine was at its busiest the summer that Polgar's parents and other Hungarian Jews arrived en masse to be liquidated -- more than 132,000 a month, according to Canadian scholar Robert Jan van Pelt's exhaustive study,Auschwitz: 1270 to the Present.

"By the end of June, in just two months, half of Hungary's Jewry -- 381,661 souls -- had arrived at Auschwitz," van Pelt wrote in the 1996 book he co-authored with U.S. scholar Deborah Dwork. "At no other time was Auschwitz more efficient as a killing center."

They quote one survivor, Alexander Ehrmann, who arrived at Birkenau at night and was aghast at what he saw and heard -- especially the piles of burning bracken and rubble he saw and smelled through the barbed wire.

From the pyres came the sounds of children. "I heard a baby crying. The baby was crying somewhere in the distance and I couldn't stop and look. We moved, and it smelled, a horrible stench. I knew that things in the fire were moving; there were babies in the fire."

At selection on the platform, most visibly pregnant women were sent to die; so were babies, children, the obviously sick and the elderly. Others were spared for use as slave labour or fodder for medical experimentation.

Some of the inmates in Camp C, Auschwitz's barrack for Hungarian Jewish women and girls, were able to bring their pregnancies to term, but their babies were almost invariably taken from them right after and killed -- "mercifully" strangled to death by Jewish inmate doctors forced to work for the Nazis.

Most pregnancies never got that far; the usual clandestine practice was to abort fetuses before they could be born -- a life-saving measure for the mother, who was an easy target for liquidation if her pregnancy became too obvious.

One of the Jewish physicians who routinely performed this "service" at Auschwitz, a Hungarian gynecologist named Gisella Perl, described that and worse in her 1948 memoir I Was a Doctor in Auschwitz.

Walking by one of the crematoriums one day, she witnessed what happened to one group of women who, promised better treatment, had revealed to their Nazi overlords that they were pregnant. "They were surrounded by a group of SS men and women, who amused themselves by giving these helpless creatures a taste of hell, after which death was a welcome friend," Perl recalled in her book.

"They were beaten with clubs and whips, torn by dogs, dragged around by their hair and kicked in the stomach with heavy German boots. Then, when they collapsed, they were thrown into the crematory -- alive."

Vera Bein escaped that fate. For the longest while, she kept her pregnancy secret, and was lucky her delivery came within weeks of liberation by the Soviets, unannounced, and not "helped" by any camp doctor.

Her survival -- and that of her daughter -- is a footnote of the Holocaust, but an important one.

"This does seem to be an unusual story," said Estee Yaari, foreign media liaison for the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. "Although there are others," she said, including one survivor born in Buchenwald in 1944, "it is a rather rare occurrence."

Surviving Auschwitz was one thing. Little "Angi", as her mother called her, was also lucky to have survived the war's chaotic aftermath, overcoming a bad start from poor nutrition that made her bones weak. She was even lucky to get official proof of her arrival in this world: a birth certificate that her adoptive father got for her before the family left Poland.

Prepared in 1945 in Oswiecim, the Polish name for Auschwitz, the certificate gave her name as "Angela Bein." The surname was that of her biological father, Tibor Bein, a lawyer, who died of maltreatment in the camp.

"Auschwitz" was listed as her place of birth -- a place that has ceased to exist by the German name, except as an expression synonymous with mechanized murder. Auschwitz today exists only as a museum, and Angela Polgar has never been back.

She has a copy of her birth certificate, issued in 1989 by the Communist authorities in her hometown, Sarospatak, in eastern Hungary.

As further proof, she has her original 1966 Hungarian teacher's diploma, which also lists Auschwitz as her birthplace.

After the liberation in 1945, Polgar's mother trekked across parts of Poland, Romania and Byelorussia in a circuitous route leading back to safety in Hungary. There, Vera remarried, and it was that second husband -- Sandor Polgar, also an Auschwitz survivor, owner of a textile shop and a generation older than Vera -- who adopted Polgar and become her "real" father, the only one she ever knew.

Twelve years later, however, he, too, died, and mother and child were once again set adrift. Coming on the heels of the crushing of their country's revolution by the Soviets in 1956, and with a relative now in Canada to sponsor them, they started plotting their flight from Hungary. Vera left in 1966, Angela followed in 1973 with her own daughter, Katy. They settled in Toronto, where Vera worked as a kindergarten teacher and bookkeeper. Katy moved to Montreal and started a family, and in 1996 Vera moved here to be with them.

For the longest time, the family saga -- especially the Auschwitz part -- was kept private. The only public recounting came in the form of a short memoir, written in Angela Polgar's voice by her sister-in-law, a retired Montreal high schoolteacher named Marianne Polgar. It was published in a small Zionist journal in New York in 2000.

Then, last January, after a barrage of coverage in the media about the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, Polgar decided the time had come to let the whole story be told. Polgar also unearthed a precious resource: an old audio tape of her mother recounting her time at Auschwitz. It was an "interview" Vera gave her granddaughter, Katy, in 1984 for a high-school project. The tape -- her final word on the subject -- will soon be registered as part of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum's archives in Poland.

As testimonies go, it's a poignant one: words spoken over the telephone more than 25 years ago, a 30-minute inter-generational dialogue in which the subject sounds like she'd rather not be telling the innocent teenager just how horrible history can be.

"It's so painful to talk about this," Vera says at one point, as Katy prods her for details. "I was so curious to hear what she had to say," Katy, now doing her doctorate in cancer research at McGill University, recalled last week.

"My mother was so protective; she wouldn't let me read any Holocaust books, so this was my one-time shot to see what my grandmother could give me. The amazing thing was that she was never bitter about what happened to her. She just went on with life."

On the tape, Vera begins by describing the confusion of her arrival at Auschwitz in May, 1944. She remembers the infamous Dr. Josef Mengele sending her to the left after inspection on the platform while others were sent to the right, to their deaths. Worried she was being separated from the others and unaware of her good fortune to be spared, she remembers telling Mengele she was pregnant, hoping he'd be compassionate and let her stay with the others.

"You stupid goose!" she recalled Mengele snapping at her, ordering her to do as she was told. Healthy and strong, Vera was good stock for the camp's labor force. Mengele wasn't going to send her to her death, not yet.

She was sent to have her left arm tattooed with a registration number: A-6075. Then she was assigned the night shift in the ample storeroom in Camp A that contained mounds of confiscated belongings of other Auschwitz victims and inmates.

Because it was so rich in stock, the depot was dubbed "Kanada," like the land of plenty. Vera's job was to sort clothing, shoes, bedding -- anything the Germans wanted to keep for themselves.

Later, she was assigned kitchen duty, where she ate potato peels, a slight but vital source of nutrition for her and the child inside her. The rest of her daily diet consisted of ersatz coffee in the morning, "something warm, a soup made of grass" for lunch, and for supper a slice of bread with a smear of jam or margarine on it.

Then came hard labour outside the camp, building a road and working in a field. Vera was transferred to Camp B2, then Camp C, where she got to know children, especially twins, who were used for medical experiments by Mengele and fellow doctors before being liquidated.

In October, now seven months pregnant, she was selected by Prof. Carl Clauberg's medical team for sterilization experiments.

It was only a matter of time before she became a guinea pig herself.

In October, now seven months pregnant, she was selected by Prof. Carl Clauberg's medical team for sterilization experiments. They injected some kind of burning, caustic substance into her cervix.

Right behind, in the uterus, was the fetus. "That was me in there," Polgar now marvels. "The needles went in, I went to the right side, then the left side. Who knows what he gave her?"

Somehow the fetus survived. After the experiment was over, the patient went back to her barracks -- and then disappeared from the doctors' radar.

"Somehow Mengele forgot her," Polgar said. "I was so small, the pregnancy didn't really show. That was her luck. Otherwise, they would have finished her off, and me, too."

A month later, Vera was approached in her barracks by "a Jewish woman doctor"-- possibly the gynecologist Gisella Perl. The doctor had a warning and an offer. She told her that new mothers usually "disappeared" along with their offspring after the birth -- sent to the gas chambers. She offered to give Vera an abortion.

"I promised her to think it over, because she really insisted on it," Vera recalled on the tape. "She said I was too young to be gassed, and she wanted to save me." But that night, Vera dreamt of her mother. "She told me, 'Veruska, you are eight months pregnant, and you don't do this, because (the fetus is) alive already and ready to leave. Believe in God and Hashem will be with you. Maybe a miracle will happen. But don't do it.'

"The next day, Vera gave the doctor her answer: she was going ahead with the birth. It happened on Dec. 21, in the barracks of Camp C. "I felt the pain and told the Block altester (the barrack's inmate supervisor) that I feel cramps and pain. She asked me to climb on the top of the bunk, and she came with me and she helped me to give birth to your mummy," Vera tells her granddaughter on the tape. "She knew how to do it, because she was the daughter of a doctor, so she had an idea about cleanliness and how to help a woman in labor. She brought hot water and clean sheets. She cooked a pair of scissors in hot water to sterilize them" before cutting the umbilical cord, she said. "So everything went quite easily." The infant weighed one kilogram, a little over two pounds "Mummy was so weak and so tiny, she didn't cry. So nobody knew she was born."

Three hours after giving birth, Vera had to leave her baby in the bunk and go outside in the cold for roll call -- what the Germans called the Appell.

Her daughter is still amazed she was able to do it. "What courage, what incredible strength she had to do that," Polgar said. "Remember, it was December. It was freezing, and they didn't have any coats or proper shoes, just wooden clogs that made them slip on the ice."

Just before the liberation, a final scare. Yelling "Schnell! Schnell!"(Quick! Quick!) the German guards herded surviving inmates like Vera into a tunnel beneath the camp and told them they would be exterminated. (It didn't happen, but to her dying day Vera retained a mortal fear of tunnels; once, trapped between stations in a stalled Toronto subway car, she lost her senses, screaming to be let out.)

After the scare, there was another miracle. On the day of liberation another child was born at Auschwitz, Gyorgy Faludi. His mother had helped Vera with her delivery; now Vera returned the favor.

The woman didn't have enough milk to suckle her son, so Vera did it. It was the beginning of a long friendship. The two families -- Faludi with her son, Bein with her daughter -- stuck together for the next few months of wandering back to Hungary. Vera nursed the two children and helped Faludi find her husband and return to their hometown, Miskolc. The war was over. Now the recovery began. After the liberation, no-one except Vera held up much hope that little Angela would live long.

In Budapest, Vera's mother's advice was to let the baby die. So, too, said the local doctors they consulted -- until one of them did a closer examination."(He) held me up like a chicken, by the legs with my head down. He wanted to see if I'd try to pull my head up. And I did. And then he said 'We can let that baby live.'" Her biggest problem in those first few years were her bones. "They were very weak, and I wasn't allowed to walk. So they put me in a carriage, and my father took me back and forth to school that way," she said.

In the street, strangers used to stare." Everybody looked at me ... and said 'That's a doll, not a baby.' They called my mother the crazy lady, because they thought she was only pretending to have a baby." Over time, though, with better nutrition and care, the child's bones got stronger, and at six she could finally walk unaided. The legacy of Angela's early years never disappeared completely. She's still tiny of stature, under five feet tall, and walks with a shuffling gait. But that doesn't seem to faze her. These days, she bustles back and forth to a computer class she takes in Montreal and doesn't seem handicapped by her physique -- or her past.

Sixty years after her birth she's been thinking a lot about her mother. She remembers her on her death bed, 13 years ago in a Toronto hospital. It was a sad, cruel end to a remarkable life. Vera's body was ridden with cancer of the spine and lung. While she lay dying, paralyzed, she had visions of Auschwitz. "She would say 'Mengele is at the door,' " Polgar said. "It was horrible. There was not enough morphine to take the nightmare away even from her dying minutes."

Vera Polgar, previously Vera Bein, born Veronika Otvos, died at age 73 on Jan. 28, 1992 -- a day after the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. "She did not want to die on Jan. 27," Polgar said. "She pulled the suffering through to the next day to die."

She remembers her mother for many things: the odds she overcame, the perseverance she embodied, the pain she concealed for so many years under a mask of optimism and a survivor's dream of renewal.

"She was very charming, never depressed," Polgar said. "But deep down, it was always there."

Like the ink in the number tattooed on her arm, the mark that Auschwitz left on Vera's psyche was indelible. Now, thanks to her daughter, so is her story.

© CanWest News Service 2005

"My Interview with Göring"

Holocaust survivor Ernest W. Michel went from writing death certificates at Auschwitz to reporting on the Nuremberg trials. There, he signed his articles with his Auschwitz prisoner number. And was invited to an interview with top Nazi Hermann Göring.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Michel, what are your impressions of the beginning of the World War II?


Michel: It was Sept. 2, 1939 and an SS man appeared in the doorway. He looked at me and asked: “Ernst Michel?” I nodded and he then said: “Be at the train station tomorrow morning at six o’clock.” I tried to ask a question, but he just said: “Shut up.” That evening was the last time I ever saw my parents. The next morning I was taken to my first camp, Fürstenwalde, to work on the potato harvest. Later I was taken to another camp in Paderborn.

SPIEGEL: What did you have to do there?

Michel: All kinds of things: I collected garbage, cleaned streets. We weren’t treated so badly there. At least not compared to how we were treated in Auschwitz later. We just had to work very hard. After about nine months I was then taken to Auschwitz in a cattle train. The journey lasted four days and five nights. I had never heard of Auschwitz before, so I didn’t know what being taken there meant. There was such a strange smell in the air.

SPIEGEL: You have said in the past that you don’t really like talking about Auschwitz.

Michel: Oh, you know, in a private conversation it isn’t so bad. But I really don’t like discussing it publicly. Auschwitz was quite simply hell. To this day I still don’t know how I managed to survive it.

SPIEGEL: Which part of Auschwitz did they bring you to?

Michel: To Monowitz, which is where they built Buna, the factory for making synthetic rubber. One day I was hit over the head by a member of the SS, the wound got infected and started to fester. So I was forced to go to the camp hospital, which normally you would avoid at all costs, as being there was incredibly dangerous. But I didn’t have any choice. While I was in the hospital a well-dressed gentleman turned up looking for people who had very good handwriting, which I did.

SPIEGEL: What did you have to do?

Michel: I had to write documents and fill out death certificates. Of course the reason for death we had to give was never “the gas chamber.” We wrote “physical weakness” or “heart failure” …


SPIEGEL: Although that was also responsible for killing many prisoners.

Michel: Of course. My best friend, Walter, died like that in the camp hospital right before my eyes. I knew him from Mannheim. Whenever I talk about Auschwitz today, it’s partly because I swore to myself that his suffering should never be forgotten.

SPIEGEL: After the war you covered the Nuremberg trials for a news agency. Did you ever let on to your readers that you yourself had been in Auschwitz?

Michel: Yes. The by-line which I used on my articles was “Special Correspondent Ernst Michel. Auschwitz number 104995.” I left it up to the newspapers to decide whether they wanted to use it or not. Some editors left it in, and of course others decided not to.

SPIEGEL: A reporter’s coverage should be as objective as possible, and free of personal emotions. Was that even possible for you?

Michel: It’s true that it was very, very difficult. But I did it. I had to. You know, they all sat just meters away from me: Göring, Hess, Keitel, Kaltenbrunner, Streicher. There were times when I wanted nothing more than to jump up and grab them all by the throat. I kept asking myself: How could you do this to me? What did my father, my mother or my friend Walter ever do to you? But then one day Göring’s lawyer suddenly came up to me during a trial recess, and said that Göring wanted to personally meet this Auschwitz prisoner, Ernst Michel, whose articles kept appearing in the paper.

SPIEGEL: Were you even allowed to interview one of the accused?

Michel: No, of course not. The lawyer had me promise that I would not write one line about this meeting. So we went to Göring’s cell and the door opened. Göring smiled, came up to me and wanted to shake my hand. At that moment I suddenly froze. I couldn’t move. I looked at his hand, his face, and then his hand again -- and then just turned round. I couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t speak to this man. Not one single word.

SPIEGEL: Did you later regret not having spoken to him?

Michel: No. It was a completely normal reaction. This man was the highest-ranking Nazi still alive. But I can still remember the astonished expression on Göring’s face when I walked out of the cell. A military policeman led me back outside. So that was my interview with Göring -- I bet no one’s told you a story like that before, have they?

Interview conducted by Martin Doerry


Rena's Promise A Story of Sisters in Auschwitz

"I love because there is not enough room in my heart to hate." – Rena Kornreich Gelissen.




by Heather Dune Macadam
Co-author of Rena's Promise

Among the first 999 Jewish girls on the first transport brought into Auschwitz on March 26, 1942, was twenty-one year old Rena Kornreich-the seven hundred and sixteenth woman in that infamous death camp.

"This is the first registered transport sent to the camp [They begin numbering them at 1,000]." (Czech, 148). On the other side of the wall, temporarily built to separate the men's and women's camps in Auschwitz I, were Polish Gentiles imprisoned for their political or religious beliefs and Russian POW's. Birkenau, later to become the women's camp, was used to house the Russian soldiers who were executed on an almost nightly basis in Block Eleven (The Block of Death). According to a note one Polish prisoner smuggled to Rena, "12,000 Russian soldiers were here when we came. 5,000 are left.... Your clothes are their uniforms."

Rena had seen enough of war in occupied Poland, where she was from, to know a little of what to expect from her oppressors. Yet, she was still unable to fathom their relentless cruelty.

"How are we going to find our suitcases later?" I figure I'm a human being, I have a right to ask. "Get in line and shut up!" he yells in my face, pointing his gun at me. The hair on my skin bristles. He doesn't see that I am human.

Two days after the first transport, Danka, Rena's younger sister, followed Rena to camp where, together, they spent the next three years of their young lives as slaves to the Third Reich.

The purpose of art, in my opinion, is to take us places where we have never been before. And whether it is in reality or imagination that we journey to Auschwitz the excursion is always valid. Rena's Promise is an artistic attempt to not only provide facts but to transport our readers into the immediate circumstances of survival and further than that, into Rena's mind.

Mama, I brought you the baby back. I repeat it over and over in my head. It is the refrain to the song that keeps me strong and healthy and spirited: Mama, I brought you the baby back. My one great feat in life, my fate, is to survive this thing and return triumphant with my sister to our parents' house.

My dream cannot be marred by German whips or chains or rules. I will succeed because I have no other choice. Failure does not even occur to me, We may die in the interim-death cannot be avoided here-but even that will not dissuade me from my sole purpose in life. Nothing else matters but these four things: be with Danka, be invisible, be alert, be numb.

Women's accounts of the Holocaust are rare, but until Rena's Promise there has been no other book written by a survivor from the first transport of women. And for that reason alone she is historically important. There is very little information about the first transport of women and only vague footnotes mentioning it in the history books.

Male survivors testimonies are far more published, than women's accounts yet the fact remains that the first transport was not men but girls on the verge of womanhood. "...Racism's 'logic' ultimately entails genocide....Any consistent Nazi plan had to target Jewish women specifically as women, for they were the only ones who would finally be able to ensure the continuity of Jewish life. Indeed, although the statistical data about the Holocaust will never be exact, there is sound evidence that the odds for surviving the Holocaust were worse for Jewish women than for Jewish men" (Rittner and Roth, 2).

This point is painfully obvious when one takes a look at even a few of the daily entries from The Auschwitz Chronicle. If anyone doubts the genocide perpetrated upon the victims of the Third Reich they need only look at the systematic coldness recorded in the Nazi's daily records. "June 8 [1943]...880 Jewish men, women and children...arrive in an RSHA transport from Greece. Admitted to the camp following the selection are 220 men, given Nos. 124325-124544, and 88 women, given Nos. 45995-46082. The other 572 deportees are killed in the gas chambers" (Czech, 415).

There is a rumor that Auschwitz is going to be used just for men again. We are going to be moved to Birkenau. There are other rumors of a gas chamber and a crematorium. "What is Birkenau?" We do not believe the other rumors, they were started by the Germans to dishearten us.

From "March to mid-August 1942...about 17,000 women prisoners, most of them Jews, arrived at Auschwitz. A large number of them (probably 5,000) perished before the transfer of women to the camp at Birkenau" (Strezelecka, 401, 394).

...The floor is dirt. There are no bunk beds here; there are shelves, wood planks, three tiers high. We are supposed to sleep here? Where are the mattresses? Our beds look like horse stalls. There is a sour smell of human odor. There are rags for blankets. We stand, squeezing our bread in our hands, unable to cope, unable to move. A girl begins to cry. Like fire in a stable her fear grabs us, and like dried straw we burn inside. Tears cannot quench these flames of disaster. We are lost. This is Birkenau.

Rena and Danka survived Birkenau for over a year when selections of 20,000 women might leave camp almost empty... only to be full again the following evening. It was Mengele himself that chose Rena and her sister for the SS laundry, which removed them from Birkenau with the advent of their second winter.

In the SS laundry Rena and Danka were relatively safe from the mass selections that plagued the prisoners of Birkenau but receiving something as innocent as a note or a secret piece of sausage could still mean death. During the summer of 1944, Rena's job was to hang the laundry out to dry; it was during this time that she had several unique encounters with Irma Grese, one of the most notorious villains in the Auschwitz Complex (she was one of the only women executed for war crimes).

"You know what's going to happen when the war is over and we've conquered the world?" [Wardress Grese asks.] "No, I don't." My skin grows cold despite the blazing sun. "All of you Jews will be sent to Madagascar." She doesn't use a mean tone of voice, she just says it matter-of-factly, as if she knows that without a doubt this is the way it will be. "You'll be slaves for the rest of your life. You will work in factories all day long and be sterilized so you can never have children." .

..There is a roaring in my ears, a train rushing through my head. Why don't I just die right now if I'm going to be a slave for the rest of my life? I stumble blindly from her voice, fighting the dryness stinging my eyes. What's the point of going on if this is all there is? I hide my face between clean white undershirts and shorts. I want to tear them off their lines and scream at the encroaching clouds darkening the sky above us.

I want to end it all, make the endless monotony cease... make everything stop. I want to sleep forever and never wake up. Then I hear myself saying, Come on Rena, you don't even know if you're going to survive tomorrow-why worry beyond that?

There was a blizzard on the night of January 18, 1945, when Rena and her sister left Auschwitz for the first and last time, but it was not to mean freedom. For six days and 60 kilometers they were forced on the death march to Wodzislaw Slaski where they were then loaded into coal cars and taken into the interior of Germany. The rest of the war was spent digging ditches against the allies and burying their own comrades who had starved or been beaten to death. Then, on May 2, 1945, the Russian and American troops met in the middle of Germany and Rena and her sister were finally liberated.

"We're free!" We hug each other, crying. "We are free!" My heart is a stone in a river of tears.

I am always amazed by Rena. Her ability to laugh and tell jokes. She is a gift of life and memory, and what a memory. And despite all of the tragedy she has witnessed she maintains her spirit and good humor. That is often the thing that amazes me most.

She does not get caught in the unanswerable question-the why's and how's-of Auschwitz; that would be suicide or worse insanity. And perhaps that is why she can remember with such brutal clarity. A student from Brown University asked her how she dealt with the trauma of Auschwitz psychologically and her answer was, "I started having babies." What better way to cope with death than to make new life?

A Buddhist Monk and dear friend went to Auschwitz in 1996 on a pilgrimage in honor of Rena Gelissen. There he lit candles to her parents and delivered a message to them from their daughter, "Dear Mama and Papa, I love you. I'm so sorry we were parted too soon."

His journey to the camps affected him deeply and upon his return he shared this sentiment, "The ghosts of Auschwitz demand that we live our lives to their fullest potentials. Take every moment and squeeze the juices out of it. That is what they want, not revenge. They want us to light candles and pray but also to dance and celebrate life." Is that the real challenge of Auschwitz? To have not only the courage to remember but to embrace life rather than death?

It is hard for every survivor to cope with their memories and despite her fortitude, a year after her story was published she called, crying. "I thought it would go away." She wept. "I thought the memories would go away." No one can take that past away from Rena or any Holocaust survivor, as much as they wish we could make their nightmares fade. We can listen to them though, and share their pain. Perhaps that is the way to lessen the burdens of the past, and in that way we let these remarkable survivors know that they are not alone. By listening we give them hope that their stories will continue through the generations and never die.

Rena's story of survival reveals the power of relationships between sisters, men and women, Gentiles and Jews. It is love which gives them the will to endure unimaginable circumstances-it is that same love and courage that allows Rena to share her story with others. Her mission is to share her experience along with her message-Shalom to all people.

If we can let Auschwitz teach us how to live then those six million and more deaths will not be for naught. Auschwitz is our world's shared human history (it is not only for Europeans to learn from, it is for all of us to take to heart) only then can we learn that hatred is meaningless. - Heather Dune Macadam, Co-author of Rena's Promise, A Story of Sisters in Auschwitz, Beacon Press, USA; Orion House, UK; also in translation in German and Japanese.

Available from -- "Rena's Promise : A Story of Sisters in Auschwitz" by Rene Kornreich Gelissen, Heather Dune Macadam. Among the first 999 Jewish girls on the first transport brought into Auschwitz on March 26, 1942, was twenty-one year old Rena Kornreich who would endure the Nazi death camp for the next three and a half years. This remarkable story of Rena's survival reveals at its core not a lone heroic struggle, but the power of an unusual relationship between Rena and her younger sister, Danka, who gave her the will to go on under unimaginable circumstances.

Prisoner~Alberto Israel

Alberto Israel still remembers the date he arrived at the Auschwitz concentration camp: Aug. 3, 1944. He and his family had just been transported to Nazi-occupied Poland from their home on the Italian-occupied island of Rhodes in the Mediterranean — a 14-day journey by boat and by train in a stifling cattle car. "We knew it was an abattoir when we arrived. We could smell the melting flesh," he recalls during a return visit to the death camp 65 years later, his eyes welling up with tears. "We got there at 10 in the morning, and by 2 in the afternoon, my mother and father had been gassed."

Now 82, Israel was one of a handful of survivors who joined dignitaries like Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday for an emotionally charged ceremony to mark the camp's liberation on Jan. 27, 1945, a date now commemorated as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. "It's hard to explain how I feel," Israel says. "I feel stress all over, my body shuts down, and I want to leave. But I must come back."

An estimated 1.1 million people died at the camp — the vast majority of them Jews from occupied Europe. Most were killed in gas chambers. They accounted for about one-sixth of all the Jews exterminated during the Holocaust. Speaking to some 1,500 people gathered in a tent near one of the railroad tracks used to bring prisoners to the camp, Netanyahu described the genocide as "the greatest crime of humanity" and "the greatest tragedy in Jewish history."

Israel, who now lives in Brussels, has been back to Auschwitz five or six times over the years, often acting as a tour guide for other visitors. But he says the visits always fill him with dread. "Every trip is painful. Even last night, I couldn't sleep. I finally got out of bed at 4 a.m., had a coffee and tried to read," he says. When I am alone, I still cry." The memories are as real as one physical reminder: he rolls up his sleeve to reveal the identification tattoo on his forearm, "B-7394."

Inside the camp, Israel ambles through the thick snow with no gloves on a 2°F day, pointing to the sparse bunker where he slept crammed together with other prisoners on tiny bunks. Then, next to the railroad tracks, he spots the location where the "selection" process took place. This was where Nazi officers separated those deemed able to work from the other new arrivals, most of whom were immediately taken to the gas chambers. Israel, then 17, and his two brothers, Eli and Aaron, last saw their parents here. Within weeks, Israel's brothers would also be dead.

Israel says he survived in part because he learned German on the spot at Auschwitz. "It probably saved my life," he says. "If you didn't understand the SS and the Kapos [the prisoners who supervised work gangs] when they gave orders, then you risked death." During his time there, Israel worked in the coal mines around Auschwitz.

When the Soviet Red Army liberated the camp, only a few thousand prisoners remained. Just a week earlier, Nazi officials had evacuated the facility, destroyed the camp's records and blown up the gas chambers. Most of the prisoners, some 60,000 of them, were then sent on a death march to other camps as their Nazi guards fled the Soviet advance. Israel was one of the marchers.

He says they walked for about 60 miles in temperatures dipping to –10°F until they reached the town of Wodzislaw Slaski in southern Poland. "We only had our thin prison clothes and broken shoes. If you wanted a warm drink, you had to drink your urine," he recounts. From there, he was sent by train to the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria, where he stayed for four months until it was liberated by the U.S. Army in May 1945. When he was finally freed, Israel weighed a mere 64 lb. He gained 17 lb. after only a week in the Americans' care.

When he recovered, Israel didn't want to return to Rhodes. Before the war, the island — now part of Greece — had a vibrant, 1,700-strong Sephardic Jewish community, but afterward, only 151 remained. So he found work as a trader in the Belgian Congo instead and then moved to Brussels, where he has remained ever since.

As he leaves the camp on Wednesday, dusk is falling and the light from candles flickers on the snow. Looking back at the desolate, snow-covered compound, Israel winces. "We have to remember, always," he says. "But it's never easy."

Read more:,8599,1957088,00.html#ixzz1djRO5vGS

Why One Auschwitz Survivor Avoided Doctors for 65 Years

Yitzhak Ganon survived Auschwitz SS doctor Josef Mengele's medical experiments -- and swore never to set foot in a hospital again.

Sixty-five years ago, infamous Auschwitz doctor Josef Mengele removed Yitzhak Ganon's kidney without anesthesia. The Greek-born Jew swore never to see a doctor again -- until a heart attack last month brought his horrific tale into the open.

He is a thin man. His wine-red cardigan is a little too big, and his legs are like matchsticks in his brown pants. Yitzhak Ganon takes care of himself. He's freshly shaven, his white mustache neatly trimmed. The 85-year-old sits on a gray sofa, with a cushion supporting his back. He is too weak to stand by himself, but he still greets a guest in German: "Guten Tag."


Speaking is hard for him. "Slowly, Abba," his daughter Iris says, and brings him a glass of water. Her father has never in his life complained of any pain, she says.


A month ago he came back from his morning walk and lay down. "Are you sick, Papa?" Iris asked. "No, just a little tired," Yitzhak Ganon answered, before going to sleep. But after a few hours he was still tired. "I don't need a doctor," he told his daughter.

The next morning things were even worse. Ganon's wife and daughter called a doctor, who diagnosed a viral infection and told him to go to the hospital. Ganon resisted, but finally realized his life was in danger. At some point he stopped fighting the doctor's orders.

'Just One Kidney'

His family brought him to the hospital in his home town of Petach Tikva near Tel Aviv. He had hardly been admitted when he lost consciousness. Heart attack, the doctor said. The blood clots were cleared with the help of tiny balloons, and the doctors put five stents in him. "We thought he wouldn't survive the operation," said Eli Lev, the doctor. "Especially since he had just one kidney."

When Yitzhak Ganon came to, he told the doctors where he lost the other kidney -- and why he had avoided doctors for 65 years. A reporter from the Israeli paper Maariv heard about the story. And now, weeks after the operation, Ganon is ready to tell his story to a German reporter for the first time.

He stretches his back and looks at a photo on the living room wall. It shows the Acropolis in Athens. "I come from Arta, a small city in northern Greece. It happened on Saturday, March 25, 1944. We had just lit the candles to celebrate the Sabbath when an SS officer and a Greek policeman burst into the house. They told us we should get ourselves ready for a big trip."

The 85-year-old slides the sleeve of his shirt up and uncovers his left forearm. The number 182558 is tattooed there in dark-blue ink.

Tied Down

The transport to Auschwitz took two weeks. His sick father died on the journey. Upon arrival, they had to strip and submit to an inspection. Ganon's mother and five siblings were then sent to the gas chambers.

Yitzhak Ganon was taken to the Auschwitz-Birkenau hospital, where Josef Mengele, the so-called "Angel of Death," conducted grisly experiments on Jewish prisoners.

Ganon had to lie down on a table and was tied down. Without any anesthetics, Mengele cut him open and removed his kidney. "I saw the kidney pulsing in his hand and cried like a crazy man," Ganon says. "I screamed the 'Shema Yisrael.' I begged for death, to stop the suffering."

After the "operation," he had to work in the Auschwitz sewing room without painkillers. Among other things, he had to clean bloody medical instruments. Once, he had to spend the whole night in a bath of ice-cold water because Mengele wanted to "test" his lung function. Altogether, Ganon spent six and a half months in the concentration camp's hospital.

'Just Fatigue'


When they had no more use for him, the Nazis sent him to the gas chamber. He survived only by chance: The gas chamber held only 200 people. Ganon was number 201.


On January 27, 1945, Auschwitz was liberated by Soviet troops. Yitzhak Ganon made it back to Greece and found his surviving siblings -- a brother and a sister -- and emigrated to Israel in 1949. He got married. And he swore never to go to a doctor again. "Whenever he was sick, even when it was really bad," his wife Ahuva says, "he told me it was just fatigue."

But now Ganon is happy he finally went to the hospital after his heart attack. One week later, he had another heart attack, and was given a pacemaker. "If the doctors hadn't been there," he says, smiling for the first time, "I would be dead now." Yitzhak Ganon has survived, again.

Jeno Schwartz

Eugene was born Jeno Schwartz in Munkacs, Czechoslovakia in 1928. He had a happy family life with 3 sisters and a brother. His mother came from an orthodox Jewish family but his father, who was a master tailor, did not. Religion played little part in Eugene's upbringing.


In November 1938 the area where Eugene's family lived was given back to Hungary. On 19th March 1944 German forces occupied Hungary completely. Immediately all Hungarian Jews were ordered to wear the Star of David and within ten days the Jewish population was moved into ghettos. Eugene's house was within a ghetto area, so his family took other people into their home.

On May 14th Eugene was returning home from school. 200 yards from home, he saw a German military lorry outside the family home with his two sisters and father on board. He saw an SS man hit his mother across the face and push her on to the lorry.  Eugene wasn't allowed into the house; he was forced onto the lorry with the rest of his family and other Jewish people from the ghetto.

The lorry was driven to a nearby brickyard, where the Jewish population was being forcibly gathered together. Eugene and his family were ordered into railway cattle trucks and from there transported to Auschwitz Birkenau. Eugene was swiftly separated from his mother and sisters, then also from his father. After being completely shaved and then showered, he was given his number, 55546, and a striped uniform. 


In this photograph from the Auschwitz Album, courtesy of Yad Vashem, Eugene can be seen at the back having just emerged from the shower block.

Eugene remained at Auschwitz Birkenau for around ten days before being selected for slave labour. He was sent by train to the Little Camp at Buchenwald and then on to Dora Mittelbau in the Harz mountains, where the Nazis used slave labourers to manufacture V1 and V2 rockets underground.

Eugene's job here was to load small trucks with rocks dug out from the tunnels for 12 to 14 hours at a time, without rest and on starvation rations. He became increasingly weak and after five months caught pneumonia. A German doctor saved his life. In mid March 1945 Eugene was sent to Bergen Belsen, which he describes as "a hellhole. People were lying all over the place". Typhus was rife and sanitation non-existent. On 15th April Eugene was liberated on the arrival of the British Army.

After the euphoria of liberation had worn off Eugene discovered that he had lost his entire family, except for one older brother who had been an officer in the Czech army. He was homeless and stateless, and still only 17 years old.  For a while Eugene worked as an interpreter for the British army in Sennelager. It was there he met his future wife Annie. He describes Annie as "my saviour".  Marrying Annie, and the arrival of their four children, gave Eugene back his future.


Eugene moved to England in 1949 and started work with Marks and Spencer as a warehouse man.  By the time he retired he had worked his way up to be a manager. Eugene now lives in Leeds, and speaks widely about his experiences in schools, prisons and numerous community organisations. His eldest daughter, Lilian, is Chair of HSFA.

In common with many survivors, Eugene is still piecing together his family's story. In 2009 he discovered that his two sisters did not die in the gas chambers of Auschwitz as he had believed for over 60 years. Eugene and Lilian went to examine the International Tracing Service archive at Bad Arolsen in Germany.

They found out that 22-year-old Paula and 20-year-old Jolan had spent three months in Auscwitz and then been selected for slave labour. The sisters were sent to Gelsenkirchen to work in a factory producing fuel for the German war effort. On 11 September 1944 the RAF bombed the factory and 151 Hungarian Jewish women were killed, including Eugene's two sisters. Eugene describes the discovery as one of the saddest episodes of his life, but takes comfort from the fact that Paula and Jolan stayed together until the end and are now buried together. He and Lilian have been to Gelsenkirchen to visit their graves.


Roman Halter

Sixty-one years after the war ended, Roman Halter has returned to his home town Chodecz, in central Poland.

The memories are fresh and the history is still painful for a man who was born here in 1927 - the same year that Pope Benedict XVI was born in Marktl in Germany.

"It is like a language you haven't practised for a long time... a clock that still ticks away. I see people, the traders, the synagogue, those who went to the market... they are everywhere.

"I see them in my mind's eye, it causes inner pain... and yet the joy when I was here as a child, this was the centre of my universe," he says.

The world of pre-war Chodecz is long gone. It was already gone in 1945. Mr Halter is one of four survivors out of an 800-strong Jewish community and the only one from his family. He doesn't hide his emotions.

"Family, friends, they are no longer here. I am coming to a ghost town. During the war, the dream of coming back to Chodecz was a comforting dream. I saw a form of rejuvenation, a new life... and when I came back after it was liberated there was this utter emptiness.

"Polish people were preoccupied with their lives," he says.

Lost childhood

Today, Mr Halter is a retired artist in London.

 You could feel it was a terrible place. We thought without knowing it must be the journey's end  Roman Halter

But there is much emotion here, in a small grey building on the outskirts of this little town where his father once worked as a timber trader.

The Jewish community is long forgotten here.

When Mr Halter came to see the house a year ago he was welcomed. It was different this year.

The fear of Jewish people coming back to regain their property sometimes leads to a painful resolution. This time, Mr Halter was not let into his old home.

"I don't feel any animosity to the people here, even with their prejudices; even when they have benefited in this basic way of occupying my parents' house. They are living and they are afraid they would be evicted. I would not want that to happen," he says.

Family tragedies

When World War II started, Mr Halter was 12 years old. When it ended he was 17.

During those six years, Mr Halter's family was obliterated in the gas chambers of the concentration camps.

In the forest near Chelmno, on the river Ner, human bones are still visible as excavation works at the site of the camp are carried out.

Poland's Jewish population was targeted in the Holocaust Mr Halter bows his head in contemplation and recalls his closest family. His sister and her two children, aged eight and six, perished here.


"They were brought here... what more is there to be said?

"It went on day after day. They were gassed in these lorries, there were screams, each one of them who went into the lorry was told they were going to be cleaned and bathed," he says.

But he also emphasises that they are still alive, at least in his memory.

Journey to hell

Mr Halter himself ended up in the Lodz ghetto. One day, in August 1944 when the Germans began to liquidate the ghetto, he was on a cattle truck bound for Auschwitz.

"There was no water but buckets for ablution. People fainted. Soon some were lying in a mire. Some passed out, some died. It was a terrible journey, everybody felt despondent," he says.

The journey was two and a half days long. There was no food, no water, no air. The transport arrived at the crack of the dawn. The light was just breaking.

"People used to hug and cry and moan and when they opened the trucks people didn't want to leave. They were pushed out and fell out like pieces of coal from a cart. We were weak and disoriented. Some were already dead and some were semi-dead."

Sombre message

The unimaginable reality of that day still haunts him.


 It's a shadow that will never leave us  Father George
German priest

"You could smell the flesh being burned. They took us out and we had to undress. They shaved us and put us in disinfectant," he says.

On the very railway ramp in Auschwitz-Birkenau where he was once offloaded, Roman Halter met up with young students from Belgium and Germany. He wanted to tell them how it was being their age more than 60 years ago.

"You never looked anybody in the eyes. You learned the techniques of survival.

"You didn't learn Latin or French. You learned how to get on. In the morning, when you stood to roll-call, you never knew if you were going to live five, 10 minutes or a day... nothing was certain," he says.

Mr Halter's best years were stolen from him and children on the ramp could feel it. Asked by a young student from Belgium what kept him alive, his answer was clear, short and with a notion of hope.

"Life. The love of life. A young person nursed his bruises and just wanted to go on," he said.

Here in Auschwitz, Pope Benedict XVI will pay tribute on Sunday to the victims of the Holocaust, including Roman Halter's family.

Roman Halter wants young people to know what it was like For German priest Father George, who comes here with students almost every year, it is not an easy place, but a thought-provoking one.

"Sometimes I feel guilty. What happens in a world without God is my question. I am a Roman Catholic priest and in every generation it happens, but our German generation, they were guilty," he said.

Roman Halter spent 10 days in the camp. Then he found a shelter in the hands of Germans near Dresden after he had fled the Death March.

For him, it is important these days to convey a message of reconciliation. He does not hate Germans.

"I find that they don't bear hatred, ill-will, but they bear a certain guilt.

"They are slightly shocked to be confronted with someone whose family was wiped out, because they thought I would be spitting into their faces - it comes to them quite as a shock," he says.

Lost community

Before the war, Poland was home to a 3.5 million-strong Jewish community. It was vibrant and the second largest in the world. Today there are no more than 30,000.

In Krakow's famous Jewish quarter Kazimierz, Roman Halter met ginger-haired, 25-year-old Tadeusz Wolenski to talk about Polish anti-Semitism.

"Here in Krakow, I don't feel it. People are curious, they would like to know my story."

When challenged by Mr Halter, who remembers that "there was an undercurrent of softly spoken anti-Semitism" a long time ago, Mr Wolenski has an answer:

"There are different qualities of this anti-Semitism. It's strong in words, in language, curses connected to Jews. But the more loudly we say there are Jews in Poland, the more the people are going to be open."

Survivor~ Helena Jockel

An exhibit marking the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp opened Thursday in Halifax. Helena Jockel, a survivor of the camp, related a heart-rending tale of loss and issued an emotional plea to not let that oppression happen again.

By Heather Ogilvie, Posted: Jan. 28, 2005

Tears dampened Helena Jockel's eyes as she recalls how her world ended in 1944. She was 19-years-old and teaching 30 "wonderful and brilliant" children at an elementary school in Hungary when the Nazis evacuated the town's Jewish ghetto. They were loaded on wagons and taken to Auschwitz.

"I was there to look after them," she says quietly. "But this terrible treatment never entered my mind. They were brilliant children. They could have been anything. And they let them die."

Thursday marked the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and Jockel, along with fellow survivor Philip Riteman, was in attendance at the opening of a new, temporary exhibit at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. Titled, the Courage to Remember, the exhibit tells the story of the Holocaust through words and dramatic historic photographs.

As Jockel looks at the photos and remembers the past, she says she feels sad, restless, and helpless. "It evokes a lot of tragic moments in my life," she says. "It reminds me of death and injustice. How could one human being do this to another human being?"

Jockel recalls having no blankets and little food and water on her journey to Auschwitz. Through tear-stained eyes, says her most vivid and horrific memories of the camp are of black smoke and the smell of burned flesh.

She stayed there for six months before being transferred to four other camps. She says the environment in which they lived was so horrific that it's hard to describe. She says it's something young people today can't even imagine.

"I had to be strong," she says. "Or I wouldn't have survived. I had to fight every minute. I was scared, but I wanted to survive and see the evil defeated."

Soviet troops liberated the Auschwitz concentration camp in January 1945. But Jockel says she was still sad because she had no one aside from her younger sister, also a schoolteacher, who was with her. Jockel says it is important for people to know about the Holocaust because it could happen again.

"Look around," she stresses. "Look at the hatred. Look at the poor people. Please, please don't let this happen again because if you do, everything you have or ever dreamed to have will be destroyed. Please don't let it happen. Let's stop the discrimination."


Jockel's grandson, Tom Jockel, was at the exhibit opening to support his grandmother. Photo: Heather Ogilvie

Jockel's grandson, Tom Jockel, accompanied her to the exhibit opening. He says his grandmother likes to educate people and she talks about her painful experience two or three times a year.

"And every time she does, my brother or I are with her," he says. "I'm here to support her because talking about this is difficult. If she needs someone to put an arm around her, I'm here."

Tom says his grandmother values family more than anything. "Her family is a constant reminder of why she survived," he says. He says he and his grandmother never talk about Auschwitz when they are together. But, he's heard her story many times and every time, he learns something new. "I don't think most Haligonians know about the strife that people, like my grandmother, went through," he says. "It's something people really should learn about."

Cathleen Madgett agrees. She read about Riteman's survival story in the newspaper and took an extended lunch break to visit the exhibit. She says she is very interested in learning about the Holocaust, mostly because her family is German.

"It seems like people know more about the war than they do the Holocaust," she says. "They see the odd picture and they know it went on, but there is more to it."

She says the exhibit's timeline was helpful in putting events of the Holocaust and the Second World War in perspective.

But, also found it very emotional. Looking at the photographs on the 40 panels around the room, she says, "It's deep - a real eye-opener. The pictures almost tell more than the words."Tears welled up in her eyes when she saw Jockel and Riteman crying. "You don't realize that the pain is still there," she said.

A Warning

John Hennigar-Shuh: "I think people need to be moved to remember that these kinds of things can happen." Photo: Heather Ogilvie

The Courage to Remember: The Holocaust 1933-1945, presented by the Atlantic Jewish Council and The Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, is not only a tribute to those who suffered, but also a warning.

Jon Goldberg, executive director of the Atlantic Jewish Council, says the root causes of the Holocaust still persist.

"It's most important the people in Atlantic Canada know what happened, so that in the future our own people can stand for what is right in the world and what is just in the world," he says.

He says too many people have died since the Holocaust, referring to Rwanda, Kosovo and Sudan, and Canada has done nothing but watch them die. John Hennigar-Shuh, general manager of The Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, agrees. He says it is a different exhibit than the museum usually has, but he feels it is an important incident to highlight.

"I think people need to be moved to remember that these kinds of things can happen," he says. "And it's only when people can lift their eyes from reality television shows to this horrendous reality that we can respond to it."

He says this year, across the world, there has been a larger sense of the legitimacy of remembering this tragedy than there has been before.

Holocaust Survivor's Story 'Needs to be Told'

Some stories are told and passed down from generation to generation in hopes of making a change for the future.

As a 13-year-old girl, Irene Zisblatt was captured from her home in Hungary, separated from her family and sent to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp because she is Jewish. There she escaped the gas chambers, consumed family diamonds daily and was experimented on by German Nazi Dr. Josef Mengele.

For the past two years, Zisblatt has shared her story with students at Hillel, the Ohio State Jewish Student Union. Tonight at 7 p.m. Zisblatt will once again talk about her experience at Auschwitz concentration camp in the second-floor Hillel Auditorium, located at 46 E. 16th Ave.

Zisblatt, the author of "The Fifth Diamond," also appeared in Stephen Spielberg's 1998 Academy Award winning documentary, "The Last Days," as one of five Hungarian survivors of concentration camps. Now residing in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Zisblatt spends the majority of her year traveling to different high schools and college campuses talking to students about the Holocaust, said Libbie Cohen, a fourth-year in strategic communication.

The theme of Zisblatt's book and experience revolves around the title, "The Fifth Diamond." Before Nazis captured her, Zisblatt's mother sewed four diamonds along the hem of her dress, which were to be sold for bread, Cohen said. In order to keep the Nazis from taking her diamonds, Zisblatt continually swallowed and retrieved the diamonds throughout her time in Auschwitz.

The diamonds, which Zisblatt now wears in a necklace around her neck, will be passed down through generations just like her story, Cohen said.

When Cohen was a sophomore in high school, her mother and sister participated in the March of the Living, a program bringing Jewish children on a two-week trip to Poland and Israel in remembrance of the Holocaust. Cohen's mother and sister were roommates with Zisblatt during their trip.

Cohen's family kept in contact with Zisblatt after the March of the Living. Once a year, Zisblatt flies to Ohio and travels to schools around the Columbus area promoting her book and sharing her story from the events which happened almost 65 years ago, Cohen said.

Joseph Kohane, executive director at the Hillel, describes Zisblatt as an embodiment of the human spirit who continues to make an impact on the world in a positive way.

"Whenever Irene comes, she never fails to move the people or students who chose to hear her speak," Kohane said. "Every year, the students who jump on the opportunity come out with a tremendous faith in the human spirit. She is simply inspiring."

After listening to Zisblatt's courageous and brave story, students often ask questions and come up to shake her hand, Cohen said.

"The most powerful part of her story is the act of her survival," Cohen said. "There are so many times she just wanted to give up, and she just knew that was going to be it. But then something happened where she was able to find the strength to survive. A lot of people don't know what that's like today, and to hear of someone who's been through that is unbelievable."

Students do not need to register to hear Zisblatt speak Tuesday night, Cohen said. The event is scheduled to last about 90 minutes, and Zisblatt's book will be available for purchase.

"We need to take into consideration the generation of Holocaust survivors is unfortunately decreasing," Cohen said. "I think her story needs to be told over and over again."  


Rosette managed to survive the Holocaust by hiding outside of Paris with a generous farmer and his family. Her father enlisted to work at a nearby labor camp, but was arrested and transported to Auschwitz on an SNCF convoy. He was then transferred to Buchenwald and finally Langenstein-Zwieberge where he was murdered five days before the camp was liberated.

I am the child of the Holocaust, one of the extraordinarily few fortunate ones…

I was only 3 1/2 when my parents realized Paris was no longer safe for Jews. They managed to move me out of Paris and into hiding with a generous farmer and his family. To avoid internment, my father enlisted to work in a nearby labor camp. Every night he managed to sneak away and visit me at the farm.

Then, one night, he didn’t come. He had been taken away, transported by train to Auschwitz, then Buchenwald, and finally to Langenstein-Zwieberge, where he was murdered by the Nazis just five days before the camp was liberated by the Americans. After liberation, my mother and I struggled for years in Paris and, eventually, at age 10, I immigrated to New York.

Today, I am a citizen of this great country. I live by its laws and I honor its ideals. But sadly, I have come to learn that there are exceptions to every rule, even the rule of law.

I am one of more than 600 individuals suing the French National Railroad, Societe National Des Chemins de Fer Francais for its role in deporting Jews and other “undesirables” from our homes in France and delivering us to Auschwitz and other Nazi death camps.

SNCF deported more than 75,000 people, including 168 U.S. citizens and Canadian pilots, to concentration camps aboard trains marked “DA,” Trains of David. My father, his sister, brother-in-law and nephews, and so many others, faced inhumane conditions aboard SNCF trains. There was no food, no water, no sanitation, no heat. Many did not survive the trip, and those who did faced Nazi death camps.

It was possible to resist the demands of the Nazis. Many French citizens and companies did just that in small and large measures, each one an act of courage. SNCF did no such thing. Instead, they became an efficient accomplice, providing excellent service, reserving enough cars to meet demand and ensuring the rail stock was maintained to prevent prisoner escapes. SNCF assisted the Nazis in their murderous plans, and for their efforts, they were paid a fee.

In the years since the war’s end, many other Nazi-era collaborators have taken steps to make financial reparations to their victims or to acknowledge their culpability in other ways. Not SNCF.

To honor my father and so many others, I sought to hold SNCF responsible for its actions. I turned to the American courts, assuming our legal system would allow me to tell my story and seek justice. Instead, I found the path blocked by a U.S. law that shields SNCF from liability.

The Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act of 1976 was enacted to limit immunity to a government’s public acts, not its private, commercial ones. However, the law also grants immunity to corporations whose shares are owned by a government. The French government owns the shares of SNCF. Therefore, SNCF, one of the 500 largest companies in the world, selling over $100 million of Eurail passes and other travel services each year in the United States, has immunity.

And thus we cannot sue SNCF in U.S. courts. The result: A Nazi collaborator avoids all accountability. Fortunately, members of Congress are seeking to close this unintended loophole in the act. Reps. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y.; Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla.; Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y.; Christopher Shays, R-Conn.; Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, D-Fla.; and Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., have introduced House Resolution 3713 that would require SNCF to answer for its wartime actions and pennit us to have our day in court. I hope more members of Congress will join them.

We want accountability, including the opportunity to review SNCF’s archives. And we want SNCF to compensate survivors and their heirs for the crimes it committed and the profits it reaped. I am now 69, and it has been nearly 65 years since my father disappeared, forced onto a SNCF train that transported him to concentration camps and, ultimately, his death. Time is running out for one last measure of justice. I hope Congress will act before it is too late.

The following poem was written by Rosette about the day her father was arrested and failed to return home:




Remembering Little Loesje

Jacob and Wijntje de Vries, Netherlands

The de Vries family grave where the name of little Little Louise-Loesje was added
Jacob and Wijntje de Vries lived with their two young children in the village of Nieuwe Niedrop in northern Holland. Jacob was a carpenter; Wijntje was a homemaker and took care of the children at home.

One day in the summer of 1942, after the onset of the deportations of the Jews from Holland to “the East”, a student, who was a courier for the ASG student underground group in Amsterdam, approached the de Vries family, asking them to hide a Jewish child. The de Vrieses, who had two children of their own, decided to accept the offer despite the risk that was involved in hiding Jews, and soon four year-old Louise Pinto was brought to their home.

The little girl, whose nickname was Loesje, soon became an integral part of the expanded family; they treated her as if she were their own, and she became friends with the de Vries children. Attentive to the difficulty Luise's parents must have felt when they had to part from their child, Jacob and Wijntje de Vries, traveled to Amsterdam, soon after the girl’s arrival, to meet her parents in person, and to assure them that their daughter had found a good home.

It is difficult to imagine the extent of fear and despair that must have lead parents to part from their children and to hand them over to total strangers. This human gesture on the part of Jacob and Wijntje de Vries probably was enormously comforting to Louise's parents, and we may assume that when Izek and Rozalia Pinto were arrested and deported to the Sobibor extermination camp in July 1943, they must have held on to the thought that at least their daughter was safe and with a loving family.

The de Vries family tried to give Louise a normal life as much as possible. She was allowed to play outside and was taken on family visits. She also played with another Jewish girl, Louise Sachs (later Joseph), who was in hiding with the Lodders, a family of friends who lived close-by. In 1943, however, the family's quiet life was disturbed.

They were betrayed, and Jacob was arrested. When Wijntje went to visit her arrested husband, she asked the grandparents to guard the three children. During her absence the Dutch police raided the de Vries home. The grandparents were beaten, and Louise was discovered and taken away. The little five-year-old girl was deported and murdered in Auschwitz.

Jacob de Vries was taken to the Vught concentration camp, where he endured severe beatings. On April 20, 1944, he was among the few who were released on the occasion of Hitler’s birthday. Both Jacob and Wijntje de Vries never recuperated from the loss of Louise, the little girl they had so much wanted to save.

Although she had only been with them for a year, they never forgot the little girl that had been gassed in Auschwitz, and who like her parents and millions of other victims of the Holocaust, had no grave. Remembering little Louise until their last day, Jacob and Wijntje de Vries instructed that her name would be added to the tombstone of the family grave.

On May 26, 2002, Yad Vashem recognized Jacob de Vries and Wijntje de Vries-Frielink as Righteous Among the Nations.

Loesje with Elisabeth de Vries

Below: Loesje with Jocob and Henk de Vries

Below: Loesje with the de Vries grandfather and children

Czeslawa Kwoka, age 14

Czeslawa Kwoka, age 14, appears in a prisoner identity photo provided by the Auschwitz Museum, taken by Wilhelm Brasse while working in the photography department at Auschwitz, the Nazi-run death camp where some 1.5 million people, most of them Jewish, died during World War II.

Czeslawa was a Polish Catholic girl, from Wolka Zlojecka, Poland, who was sent to Auschwitz with her mother in December of 1942. Within three months, both were dead. Photographer (and fellow prisoner) Brasse recalled photographing Czeslawa in a 2005 documentary: "She was so young and so terrified. The girl didn't understand why she was there and she couldn't understand what was being said to her.

So this woman Kapo (a prisoner overseer) took a stick and beat her about the face. This German woman was just taking out her anger on the girl. Such a beautiful young girl, so innocent. She cried but she could do nothing. Before the photograph was taken, the girl dried her tears and the blood from the cut on her lip. To tell you the truth, I felt as if I was being hit myself but I couldn't interfere. It would have been fatal for me." 

  • 1942

Iudit Barnea and Lia Huber

Ludit Barnea and Lia Huber were born in 1937 in the town of ?imleul Silvaniei (Szilagysomlyo), Transylvania. In 1940, Transylvania was annexed to Hungary, and in June 1942 their father Zvi was taken to a forced labor unit on the Russian front.

With the German conquest of Hungary in March 1944, the family’s property and belongings were confiscated, and they were forced to wear a yellow star. In May 1944 Iudit, Lia and their mother, Miriam-Rachel, were interned in a ghetto, and the following month they were deported to Auschwitz, along with many other members of their family. 

At Auschwitz, Iudit and Lia suffered the infamous medical experiments of Josef Mengele. The twins always stayed close together. Every night, their mother would sneak into their block and give them her meager portion of bread. She would also take them outside, in all weathers, to wash them and comb their hair, and thus preventing them from getting infested by lice and being doomed to the gas chambers.

One day, as Mengele was experimenting on the girls, Miriam-Rachel burst into the shack and begged him to stop. In response, she was injected with a concoction that nearly killed her, and caused her permanent deafness.

In January 1945 the girls and their mother were liberated by the Red Army. They returned to ?imleul Silvaniei, and in August 1945 they were reunited with their father, who had survived many camps. In 1960 the family immigrated to Israel. Both girls married: Lia and her husband Jean have two children and seven grandchildren; Iudit and Moshe have three children and five grandchildren.

The Budy Massacre - A Grim Anniversary

Recent days have seen the 65th anniversary of the tragic events that befell the women’s penal company of the Auschwitz German camp in the sub-camp at Budy, outside O?wi?cim. One night in early October 1942, German women prisoner functionaries battered 90 French Jewish women to death.   The events of 65 years ago have never been fully explained. Many sources term it a mutiny. Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Hoess referred to it as the “Budy-Revolte.”

The penal company for women prisoners in Budy, about 7 km. from O?wi?cim, was founded in June 1942 in reprisal for an escape from Auschwitz by a Polish woman prisoner. 400 women of various ethnic backgrounds were imprisoned in Budy. Their living conditions were lamentable, and the Germans forced them to perform backbreaking labor. German women criminals and prostitutes made up the cadre in charge of the penal company.

The massacre of the French Jewish women prisoners took place in early October. Using clubs, hatchets, and rifle butts—and throwing some of their victims from the windows in the loft of the building—female prisoner functionaries and SS guards butchered 90 women.

The camp administration investigated the incident, but failed to discover the cause. Commandant Rudolf Hoess defined the massacre as “a revolt instigated by prisoners who used stones and clubs in an attempt to terrorize the capo and make their way out of the camp.”

SS man Pery Broad claimed that a German woman noticed a stone in the hand of Jewish woman returning from the toilet to the dormitory room. Broad felt that this was a “hysterical illusion.” Nevertheless, the German woman called for help and shouted that the Jewish woman had struck her. At that point, the female supervisors and guards began slaughtering the French Jews.

The following day, the Germans exterminated all the women who remained alive after being injured in the massacre. They also killed six German women functionaries who had taken part in the incident.


Son Recognizes Father as SS Man in Auschwitz Photograph

More than a million people visit the Auschwitz Museum each year. Many of them search for information about family members who lost their lives in the camp. It is highly unusual, however, for a son to recognize his father in one of the photographs—when the father is wearing an SS uniform.

The story began in the spring of 2007. A group of visitors arrived from Germany. After touring the main exhibition, they joined an educational workshop at the Roma and Hungarian exhibitions. After the summing up remarks, one of the participants came up to Jacek Lech of the International Center for Education about Auschwitz and the Holocaust.

“He was an older man, about 65 or 70. He told me that he recognized his father in one of the pictures in Block no. 4,” Lech recalls. “I asked him if he was sure that it was Block no. 4, because visitors usually recognize relatives in the pictures of prisoners, which hang in blocks no. 6 and 7. He confirmed that it was Block no. 4, and said that he would give me more precise information the next time he came back to the Museum.”

In late July, the man returned to the Museum. This time, he had a family album with him. He asked if he could go to Block no. 4, where one of the rooms contains photographs from Lili Jacob’s famous album depicting the procedures used with an arriving transport of Jews. “We stood in front of one of the pictures showing an SS physician on the ramp selecting new arrivals for death in the gas chambers,” recalls Lech. “The German visitor pointed to a young man wearing an SS uniform, standing to the left of the physician, and said, ‘That young man in the SS uniform is my father.’ He laid the album on the window sill and showed me four photos from the album.”

One showed a man in an SS uniform during drills, the second showed him with his unit, the third showed him in an SS dress uniform, and the fourth, taken after the war, showed the same man, in civilian clothing, with his family. It was undoubtedly the same man as in the 1944 photograph from Birkenau. Lech recalls that the visitor seemed shocked. “He hadn’t known anything about [his father’s] wartime past.”

We know little about the SS man. He was born near Potsdam in 1906. After passing final school exams, he worked as an apprentice to a carpet dealer. Later, he became a deacon with the Knights of Malta, got married in 1937, and settled in Berlin with his wife.

“The son knew almost nothing about his father’s wartime fate,” says Lech. “He was born in 1942, and said only that his father was held by the British until 1947, and became a pastor a year later. He died in 1988. His widow told her son that his father had served an internship as an orderly in a mental institution in Berlin in 1937, and might have been at one of the Nazi euthanasia centers in 1941.”

The staff of the death camps in occupied Poland were recruited from the euthanasia centers organized under Aktion T4. The man in question might therefore have ended up in Auschwitz, leaving his wife and newborn son behind in Berlin.

No information about this particular SS man has been found in the personnel records in the Archives of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum. However, this does not mean that the individual in question did not serve in Auschwitz, since the Germans destroyed an enormous number of documents before liberation. Lech says that the son recalled “finding transfer orders to Auschwitz dated 1942 at home, along with a receipt from the camp storehouse for a pair of suspenders and other SS uniform accessories.”

One of the documentation centers in Berlin might contain information about the man’s wartime record. The son knows that there are some records there, but German law prevents him from obtaining them while his mother is still alive. During his last visit, the man said he would contact the Museum as soon as he receives any new information. Perhaps we will then learn the solution to this puzzle.

 Photos from Auschwitz. The Lili Jacob Album

More than 430 thousand Jews were deported from Hungary to Auschwitz in 1944. Among them was 18-year-old Lili Jacob, along with her whole family and the rest of the Jewish community of the small Carpathian locality of Bilke (formerly Subcarpathian Rus, Czechoslovakia; under Hungarian rule during the war; now Zakarpattia Oblast, Ukraine).

Of her whole family, only Lili survived the war. After an odyssey through the concentration camps, she was liberated at the Dora-Mittelbau camp in Germany in April 1945. In the abandoned SS quarters there, she found a photo album marked with the title Aussiedlung der Juden aus Ungarn (The deportation of the Hungarian Jews) She recognized family members in one picture, and herself in another photo, taken by the Nazis a year earlier in the Birkenau women’s camp.

Almost 200 pictures taken by SS photographers document the process of receiving a transport on the ramp in Birkenau, from the moment when the people disembark from the freight cars, through selection, to the time when they are taken to their death in the gas chambers. The people selected as fit for labor and registered as prisoners in the camp can also be seen in the photographs.

The National Jewish Museum in Prague made copies of the photographs in 1946, thanks to which some of them were published in Bratislava in 1949 as The Tragedy of the Slovak Jews, under the editorship of F. Steiner. In 1956, the Czech historian Erich Kulka, himself a former Auschwitz prisoner, sent prints of some of the photographs to the Auschwitz Museum. Since then, they have been an important element in the permanent exhibition on the destruction of the Jews in Auschwitz.

Lili Jacob donated the original album to the Yad Vashem memorial institution in Israel in 1980. 

Unknown Photographs of Mengele, Hoess, and Other Auschwitz Murderers

Sensational, Previously Unknown Photographs of Mengele, Hoess, and Other Auschwitz Murderers
The Holocaust Museum in Washington has given Auschwitz Museum historians access to the 115 photographs in an album belonging to Auschwitz SS man Karl Hoecker. Adjutant to the third Auschwitz commandant, Richard Baer, Hoecker took the pictures in the second half of 1944. An anonymous benefactor recently donated the photographs to the American museum.

The majority of the unique images originated in the summer of 1944 in Mi?dzybrodzie, Poland, near O?wi?cim. A rest-and-recreation center for the Auschwitz garrison existed there, on the slopes of Kotelnica mountain in the Beskid chain, during the war. A second group of photographs comes mostly from the SS infirmary, which was located directly adjacent to Auschwitz II-Birkenau Concentration Camp.

The photographs from Mi?dzybrodzie present relaxed SS men and smiling girls from the SS auxiliary service. The Germans are portrayed resting on lounge chairs, singing to the accompaniment of an accordion, and eating blueberries. Their faces bear no signs of the emotions connected with the everyday, criminal operation of the camp. The newly opened SS infirmary, visits by high-ranking officials, and practice at the nearby firing range feature in the photographs taken in Auschwitz.

Cooperation between American and Polish historians has made it possible to identify more than ten of the perpetrators, including Josef Mengele, known primarily for his experiments on children; Rudolf Hoess, who founded the camp and was its commandant; as well as the owner of the album, Karl Hoecker.

Guests invited to the camp, including civilians, also appear in the photographs. One picture shows Otto Ambros, a manager of the German IG Farben chemical firm, which exploited Auschwitz prisoners as slave laborers.

Museum Deputy Director Teresa ?wiebocka announced that, under an agreement reached with the Washington museum, these unique photographs will be used in the new main exhibition at the Auschwitz Museum, and in Museum publication.

About the Owner of the Album

Karl Hoecker was born in Engershausen, Germany, in December 1911. He was the youngest of six children. His father, a construction worker, was killed in World War I, and his mother struggled to support the family. Höcker, who worked as a bank teller in Lubbecke, joined the SS in 1933 and the Nazi party in 1937. He married that same year. His daughter was born two years later, and his son in 1944.

When the war broke out, Hoecker was assigned to the Neuengamme concentration camp garrison. In 1943, he became adjutant to the commandant of the Majdanek camp in Lublin and was there during Operation Reinhard, the mass deportation and extermination campaign. When Sturmbahnführer Richard Baer was named commandant of Auschwitz in May 1944, Hoecker was transferred there as his adjutant.

Baer, previously deputy to WVHA (SS Main Economic-Administrative Office) chief Oswald Pohl in Berlin, had never worked in a camp previously. Hoecker remained in Auschwitz until evacuation, when he was transferred to the Dora-Mittelbau camp along with Baer. The two men administered the camp until the Allies arrived. Hoecker fled the camp just before liberation. The British arrested him near Hamburg, but he passed himself off as a soldier from a regular unit.

Since the Allies had no precise description of him, Hoecker served only a year and a half in a British POW camp before being released at the end of 1946. He returned to family life in Engershausen with his wife and two children. After vountarily submitting to de-nazification proceedings in 1952, he was sentenced to nine months’ imprisonment for membership in a criminal organization, the SS. Because of a 1954 amnesty, he did not serve time. No one took any further interest in him until the 1960s, when the public prosecutor began searching for him in the aftermath of the Eichmann trial.

He took up gardening in his spare time. He held the position of head teller at the regional bank in Lübbecke with a break from 1963 to 1965, when he was under investigation in connection with the Frankfurt Trial, where he was indicted. The court found Hoecker guilty of involvement in the murder of 1,000 people in four separate incidents. The facts that he had been a model citizen after the war, had voluntarily submitted to de-nazification in 1952, and had been shown to be merely a bureaucrat who worked at a desk, were all taken into account as mitigating circumstances.

The court ruled that there was no proof that Hoecker had been present on the ramp or unloading platform where the Nazis carried out the selection of new arrivals. It sentenced him to only seven years, and counted his previous time in prison against the sentence. Paroled in 1970, Hoecker went back to his job as head teller at the bank in Lübbecke.

Karl Hoecker died in 2000 at the age of 89.

(source: USHMM, Washington)

Some remarks on the album
Who took pictures in Auschwitz?

It is generally known that the upper SS leadership attempted to maintain the secrecy of the crimes committed in the concentration camps; the oldest extant orders from commandant Rudolf Hoess include a blanket prohibition, frequently reiterated later, on all forms of photography on the grounds of Auschwitz Concentration Camp.

Later years, however, saw a number of exceptions to the ban. At least two extensive collections of photographs have survived: some 200 pictures taken by SS-Hauptscharführer Bernhard Walter and SS-Unterscharführer Ernst Hofmann, depicting selection on the railroad platform in Birkenau, and over 500 photographs taken for the most part by SS-Unterscharführer Dietrich Kamann, presenting the progress of construction projects in various parts of the camp.

The Museum Archives also hold almost 40,000 photographs taken when prisoners were registered, a range of images made by the SS and by Germans and Poles living in O?wi?cim, aerial reconnaissance photographs from late 1944 and early 1945, and pictures taken by Russians and Poles after liberation.

An absolutely unique class of photographs was taken by members of the Sonderkommando near Crematorium V in Birkenau in the summer of 1944.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    
What can be seen in the official photographs from the camp?

In almost all these photographs, with the exception of those taken on the ramp in Birkenau, prisoners appear in the background, performing their assigned tasks: digging drainage ditches, laying bricks, carrying wooden beams, etc. Generally, they strike the beholder as healthy and relatively well dressed. These pictures contain no scenes of SS men beating or tormenting prisoners, let alone, obviously, killing or executing them. The camp commandant issued a strict prohibition against photographing such events, and this ban would seem to have been observed scrupulously.                                                                                                                                                                                             
The uniqueness of the Hoecker album

For many years following the end of the war, the Nazi perpetrators were viewed as people with exclusively sadistic character traits, unalloyed with any humane attributes or feelings. A turning point came only with the publication of Daniel J. Goldhagen’s book Hitler’s Willing Executioners and the subsequent, tempestuous media polemics during which an alternative image was presented to the public, of “ordinary people”—fathers of families, sometimes well educated, who nevertheless helped carry out the most enormous crime in human history.

Previously, the Museum collections contained no images that could contribute to a fuller illustration of the way that the SS men assigned to Auschwitz behaved. Specialists in the history of the camp had at their disposal only pictures of the SS “on duty” at the Birkenau ramp, or while guarding or escorting prisoners. Otherwise, there were only the numerous studio portraits, and photographs from the postwar trials.

The photos in the Hoecker album, on the other hand, depict SS men from the Auschwitz gallery in their private lives. We see them smiling and, frequently, looking downright joyful. Their faces betray no hint of the emotions connected with the “duties” they performed in the camp.                                                                                                                                                                                                                            
Scenes from everyday life

In several of the photographs, SS physicians pose in the course of kameradeschaft (team-building) meetings at the rest-and-recreation center in Mi?dzybrodzie. These occurred during breaks between the regular series of selection procedures during which these same men personally sent Jews directly from the unloading platform to the gas chambers.

The notorious Josef Mengele is seen in animated conversation with camp commandant Richard Baer and Auschwitz SS garrison commander Rudolf Hoess; all three men are clearly in a buoyant mood. Further along, girls from the SS auxiliary service gorge themselves on blueberries picked in the forest. Nearby stands an SS man playing the accordion.

Finally come the group photographs. In the front row stand the commandants of the various camps making up the Auschwitz complex. Among them is Otto Moll. Although he holds the rank of a mere SS-Hauptscharführer (sergeant), the officers obviously treat him as their equal, apparently as a result of his position as boss of the crematoria.

Another series of pictures was taken during a party at the Auschwitz officers’ mess, with guests from the Wehrmacht and civilians sitting at the tables alongside the SS men. One of the civilians is Otto Ambros, a manager and board member with IG Farben.

The album also shows target practice at an SS firing range, probably the one in the village of Rajsko, outside O?wi?cim. Lying on specially constructed wooden platforms, the SS men take aim.

Many photographs were taken during official ceremonies at the camp, such as the opening of the newly constructed SS hospital complex in Birkenau. Visiting dignitaries are identifiable, along with commandants Hoess and Baer, SS physician Eduard Wirths from the camp health service, and another civilian, Professor Carl Clauberg, who carried out criminal sterilization experiments in Auschwitz. In the background is a group of German Red Cross nurses, including Maria Stromberger—one of the few who showed sympathy for the prisoners and cooperated with the camp resistance movement.                                                                                                                                                  
When were the pictures taken?

Almost all the photographs in the album were taken between Karl Hoecker’s arrival in Auschwitz in late May 1944 and the end of that year. Several photographs depict the funeral of the SS men killed during American air raids on December 18 and 26. Some of the series of pictures are dated, while others, unfortunately, are not. Documentary evidence makes it possible, however, to determine that the visit of the air force general Erich Quade took place on May 31 (it included a lecture on Die deutsche Luftkriegsführung—the German air campaign), while the SS infirmary was opened on September 1.                                                                                                                                   
The importance of the photographs

All these pictures possess indisputably great historical value. They enable us to reconstruct many details of the furnishing of camp buildings, to determine the participants in important events, and, perhaps most of all, to make several observations of a general nature. There seems to be not a hint that dealing with the psychological burdens connected with their everyday “duty” constituted a problem for these SS men. In fact, their time in Auschwitz may have struck them as idyllic. After all, they slept in clean barracks, dined in well-stocked mess halls, went hunting, and took part in cultural and recreational events.

Here, perhaps, lies the answer to the conundrum of why the Auschwitz SS records contain no information on transfer requests. Perhaps the only puzzling thing is the alcohol that was ubiquitous at the “team-building” meetings—was it intended to soothe the nerves of the SS men?

Piotr Setkiewicz, head of the archives at the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum

Heroes of the Holocaust

Not many of the prisoners of the Nazi German Auschwitz concentration camp lived to see liberation. Local residents helped them, sometimes at the cost of their own lives, in the unequal struggle to survive.

Museum historians have managed to establish the names of over 1,200 Poles from O?wi?cim and the vicinity who aided prisoners. The Germans arrested at least 177 people in revenge. Sixty-two of them perished in Auschwitz and other concentration camps. One of the newest Museum publications is devoted to the memory of these people who helped prisoners.

Niezwykli O?wi?cimianie. Jak ratowano wi??niów KL Auschwitz [Extraordinary people from O?wi?cim: how they aided Auschwitz prisoners] arose as an initiative by the former prisoners who belong to the Auschwitz Preservation Society. This slender volume is a supplement to Ludzie dobrej woli [People of good will], published last year.

This valuable testimony protects these heroic O?wi?cim residents from being forgotten. It is all the more significant because it is one of the first attempts, along with Ludzie dobrej woli, at an overall presentation of the subject.

Accounts by Jewish and Polish former prisoners are enriched by the accounts and biographies of residents of O?wi?cim and nearby localities who helped the prisoners by supplying them with food and medicine. Excerpts from secret messages, delivered by local residents as a way of making it possible to stay in touch with their families, bear direct witness to history.

The many people who distinguished themselves in this effort include Julia Ilisi?ska of O?wi?cim, Helena P?otnicka of Brzeszcze, and Father Jan Skarbek of O?wi?cim, who headed the local Roman Catholic parish. There is also a noteworthy interview with Bronis?aw Jacek Stupka, who joined the aid effort as a boy of six.

The book concludes with an interview with Professor W?adys?aw Bartoszewski on the contemporary state of knowledge about Polish participation in the rescue of Auschwitz prisoners. Two other interviews, with Museum historians Henryk ?wiebocki and Piotr Setkiewicz, provide insight into the social and political situation in occupied O?wi?cim.

The publication of Niezwykli O?wi?cimianie fills a gap in our knowledge about the civilians living near the camp, and their reaction to the crimes being committed there. It is also an attempt at according at least partial justice to the people who risked their lives to aid the prisoners of the Nazis.

The book is accompanied by a 30-minute film on DVD, containing narratives and accounts by participants in those events, accompanied by commentaries by historians. The Museum will surely use the material contained in this book in its planned exhibition devoted to heroic local O?wi?cim residents.

New Museum Acquisitions

The Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum has acquired two new exhibits: paper sacks for cement from one of the sub-camps, and a portable warming kettle for soup.

The portable warming kettle was used for transporting liquids and soup from the camp kitchen to the place where it was distributed. “The producer was the Küppersbusch company, which is still in business today as a manufacturer of kitchen appliances,” said Igor Bartosik, head of the Collections Department. “We already have kettles like this among our holdings. You can also see them in archival photographs taken at the camp when it was in operation.”

The cement sacks acquired for the Museum collection have labels from the time of the Second World War. They come from the Auschwitz III-Golleschau sub-camp, where prisoners performed slave labor in the quarries and cement factory.

One of the drawings used to “decorate” the walls of prisoner sleeping quarters (used today as part of a cement factory) at the Golleschau site depicts prisoners at work. Among other things, it shows the warehouse, with prisoners stacking hundreds of similar sacks full of cement. The drawing is the work of Jean Bartichand, a Jew from France who was deported to Auschwitz from the Drancy transit camp.

There is now a memorial chamber at the Golleschau site, established by the local community, which includes an exhibition room and a lecture room. Plans are also afoot to create a commemorative trail around the stone quarry there, which is currently flooded.

The Anniversary of Marian Batko’s Death by Starvation

Tuesday, 01 May 2007

On April 27, Polish Teachers’ Day of Remembrance and Peace, about a thousand Polish teachers and students paid homage to the victims of the Auschwitz German camp. The date coincides with the anniversary of the martyr’s death in Auschwitz of the teacher Marian Batko, who gave his life for a 16-year-old fellow prisoner.

S?awomir Broniarz, chairman of the Polish Teachers’ Union, said that the ceremony was not only an occasion to honor the memory of the people murdered in Auschwitz, but also a reminder about the thousands of teachers who perished during the Second World War. It was also an opportunity to recall Marian Batko.

“We also want to show young people that peace is the most important thing,” said Broniarz. “We want to show that it is necessary to respect others and to respect the highest values, such as peace, and also to teach tolerance and understanding of others. This is what schools and teachers try to convey, and this is the purpose of the ceremony.”

Teachers placed flowers and lighted candles at the foot of the Death Wall in the courtyard of Block no. 11 at the Auschwitz I site, in the death cells where St. Maksymilian Kolbe and Marian Batko starved, at the plaque commemorating the death of Polish teachers, and in front of the international monument to the victims of the camp at the Auschwitz II-Birkenau site.

The Polish Teachers’ Union organized the ceremonies.

Marian Batko came from Cracow. He was born in 1901, and worked before the war at a gimnazjum in Chorzów. The Germans arrested him on January 30, 1941, when he was on his way to a clandestine lesson, and took him to Montelupich prison in Cracow before deporting him to Auschwitz on April 5. Batko was given camp number 11795.

During evening roll call on April 23, 1941, in reprisal for an escape by another prisoner, the camp authorities selected 10 prisoners and sentenced them to death by starvation. One of them was 16-year-old Mieczys?aw Pronobis from Tarnów (number 9313). Batko volunteered to change places with the teenager, and died on April 27, 1941 in the cellars of Block no. 11—the first of the ten condemned men to succumb.

  • 1901~April 27, 1941

Childhood in a Striped Camp Uniform

Friday, 27 April 2007

A new, expanded (Polish) edition of the oft-reprinted collection of stories about children in Auschwitz concentration camp. It includes stories never published before. One of them, titled “The Jew“, was blocked by the censor in 1968.

This is one of the most moving documents about the tragic fates of Auschwitz prisoners, and an emotional depiction of the camp as seen through the eyes of a child. In lapidary style, the author describes hunger, fear, loneliness, and the despair of children torn away from the secure world of childhood and left to the mercy of violence and death. The dry tone of the narrative heightens the drama of the scenes portrayed.

Bogdan Bartnikowski was born in Warsaw in 1932. At the age of 12, he took part in the Warsaw Uprising as a courier in the Ochota district. Units of the SS RONA (Russian National Liberation Army), fighting on the German side, eventually took control of the area. At that point, Bartnikowski and his mother were expelled from their home and sent to the transit camp at Pruszków. From there, they were deported to Auschwitz on August 12, 1944. Bartnikowski’s father died in the Uprising.

Bogdan Bartnikowski was one of many children, boys and girls, whom the Germans imprisoned in Auschwitz. His Auschwitz experiences left an indelible mark on his memory. In an interview, he spoke of his memories of the period: “I wanted to discard them, to rid myself of them. Forever! And so I began to write down my memories and those of the boys and girls I knew. I was hoping that, if I wrote them down, they would leave me in peace. Unfortunately, this did not occur….”

Bogdan Bartnikowski. Dzieci?stwo w pasiakach [Childhood in a Striped Camp Uniform]
Pa?stwowe Muzeum Auschwitz-Birkenau, O?wi?cim 2007
Cover design by Juriana Jur
14.5 x 20.5 cm, 165 pp. 
ISBN 978-83-60210-34-5

  • 1932~

Unique Birkenau Photos Added to the Museum Collections

Wednesday, 28 March 2007

The Museum’s archival collections were recently enriched by a copy of an album containing 75 photos of the SS hospital, which was located behind the SS barracks in Birkenau. The photos were taken from 1941 to 1944, apparently to illustrate the progress of construction work and for propaganda purposes.

The first images show homesteads from the village of Birkenau before demolition. Characteristically, the photographer concentrated on the oldest buildings, including thatch-roofed barns, often dilapidated, in various stages of demolition. This was intended to justify the demolition by portraying the structures as having little value; these buildings had also, it hardly needs adding, been erected by Poles.

Modern brick buildings with tiled roofs can nevertheless be seen in the background in many of the photos. Later photographs present the stages of construction work: leveling the ground, paving the streets, and, finally, raising the walls of the wooden barracks. The work was done by civilian workers and concentration camp prisoners—who, unfortunately, can be seen only in the distance.

The last pictures in the series show the interior of the hospital: the rooms for the patients, the operating room, dentist’s office, kitchen, and so on. All the interiors gleam with cleanliness. They have central heating, are equipped with solid furniture, and make the best possible impression. The contrast with the appearance of the hospital barracks for the prisoners is thus striking.


Mengele, Hoess, and Other Auschwitz Murderers

Sunday, 30 September 2007

The Holocaust Museum in Washington has given Auschwitz Museum historians access to the 115 photographs in an album belonging to Auschwitz SS man Karl Hoecker. Adjutant to the third Auschwitz commandant, Richard Baer, Hoecker took the pictures in the second half of 1944. An anonymous benefactor recently donated the photographs to the American museum.

The majority of the unique images originated in the summer of 1944 in Mi?dzybrodzie, Poland, near O?wi?cim. A rest-and-recreation center for the Auschwitz garrison existed there, on the slopes of Kotelnica mountain in the Beskid chain, during the war. A second group of photographs comes mostly from the SS infirmary, which was located directly adjacent to Auschwitz II-Birkenau Concentration Camp.

The photographs from Mi?dzybrodzie present relaxed SS men and smiling girls from the SS auxiliary service. The Germans are portrayed resting on lounge chairs, singing to the accompaniment of an accordion, and eating blueberries. Their faces bear no signs of the emotions connected with the everyday, criminal operation of the camp. The newly opened SS infirmary, visits by high-ranking officials, and practice at the nearby firing range feature in the photographs taken in Auschwitz.

Cooperation between American and Polish historians has made it possible to identify more than ten of the perpetrators, including Josef Mengele, known primarily for his experiments on children; Rudolf Hoess, who founded the camp and was its commandant; as well as the owner of the album, Karl Hoecker.

Guests invited to the camp, including civilians, also appear in the photographs. One picture shows Otto Ambros, a manager of the German IG Farben chemical firm, which exploited Auschwitz prisoners as slave laborers.

Museum Deputy Director Teresa ?wiebocka announced that, under an agreement reached with the Washington museum, these unique photographs will be used in the new main exhibition at the Auschwitz Museum, and in Museum publication.

About the Owner of the Album

Karl Hoecker was born in Engershausen, Germany, in December 1911. He was the youngest of six children. His father, a construction worker, was killed in World War I, and his mother struggled to support the family. Höcker, who worked as a bank teller in Lubbecke, joined the SS in 1933 and the Nazi party in 1937. He married that same year. His daughter was born two years later, and his son in 1944.

When the war broke out, Hoecker was assigned to the Neuengamme concentration camp garrison. In 1943, he became adjutant to the commandant of the Majdanek camp in Lublin and was there during Operation Reinhard, the mass deportation and extermination campaign. When Sturmbahnführer Richard Baer was named commandant of Auschwitz in May 1944, Hoecker was transferred there as his adjutant.

Baer, previously deputy to WVHA (SS Main Economic-Administrative Office) chief Oswald Pohl in Berlin, had never worked in a camp previously. Hoecker remained in Auschwitz until evacuation, when he was transferred to the Dora-Mittelbau camp along with Baer. The two men administered the camp until the Allies arrived. Hoecker fled the camp just before liberation. The British arrested him near Hamburg, but he passed himself off as a soldier from a regular unit.

Since the Allies had no precise description of him, Hoecker served only a year and a half in a British POW camp before being released at the end of 1946. He returned to family life in Engershausen with his wife and two children. After vountarily submitting to de-nazification proceedings in 1952, he was sentenced to nine months’ imprisonment for membership in a criminal organization, the SS. Because of a 1954 amnesty, he did not serve time. No one took any further interest in him until the 1960s, when the public prosecutor began searching for him in the aftermath of the Eichmann trial.

He took up gardening in his spare time. He held the position of head teller at the regional bank in Lübbecke with a break from 1963 to 1965, when he was under investigation in connection with the Frankfurt Trial, where he was indicted. The court found Hoecker guilty of involvement in the murder of 1,000 people in four separate incidents. The facts that he had been a model citizen after the war, had voluntarily submitted to de-nazification in 1952, and had been shown to be merely a bureaucrat who worked at a desk, were all taken into account as mitigating circumstances.

The court ruled that there was no proof that Hoecker had been present on the ramp or unloading platform where the Nazis carried out the selection of new arrivals. It sentenced him to only seven years, and counted his previous time in prison against the sentence. Paroled in 1970, Hoecker went back to his job as head teller at the bank in Lübbecke.

Karl Hoecker died in 2000 at the age of 89.

About the Owner of the Album~Karl Hoecker

Karl Hoecker was born in Engershausen, Germany, in December 1911. He was the youngest of six children. His father, a construction worker, was killed in World War I, and his mother struggled to support the family. Höcker, who worked as a bank teller in Lubbecke, joined the SS in 1933 and the Nazi party in 1937. He married that same year. His daughter was born two years later, and his son in 1944.

When the war broke out, Hoecker was assigned to the Neuengamme concentration camp garrison. In 1943, he became adjutant to the commandant of the Majdanek camp in Lublin and was there during Operation Reinhard, the mass deportation and extermination campaign. When Sturmbahnführer Richard Baer was named commandant of Auschwitz in May 1944, Hoecker was transferred there as his adjutant.

Baer, previously deputy to WVHA (SS Main Economic-Administrative Office) chief Oswald Pohl in Berlin, had never worked in a camp previously. Hoecker remained in Auschwitz until evacuation, when he was transferred to the Dora-Mittelbau camp along with Baer. The two men administered the camp until the Allies arrived. Hoecker fled the camp just before liberation. The British arrested him near Hamburg, but he passed himself off as a soldier from a regular unit.

Since the Allies had no precise description of him, Hoecker served only a year and a half in a British POW camp before being released at the end of 1946. He returned to family life in Engershausen with his wife and two children.

After vountarily submitting to de-nazification proceedings in 1952, he was sentenced to nine months’ imprisonment for membership in a criminal organization, the SS. Because of a 1954 amnesty, he did not serve time. No one took any further interest in him until the 1960s, when the public prosecutor began searching for him in the aftermath of the Eichmann trial.

He took up gardening in his spare time. He held the position of head teller at the regional bank in Lübbecke with a break from 1963 to 1965, when he was under investigation in connection with the Frankfurt Trial, where he was indicted. The court found Hoecker guilty of involvement in the murder of 1,000 people in four separate incidents. The facts that he had been a model citizen after the war, had voluntarily submitted to de-nazification in 1952, and had been shown to be merely a bureaucrat who worked at a desk, were all taken into account as mitigating circumstances.

The court ruled that there was no proof that Hoecker had been present on the ramp or unloading platform where the Nazis carried out the selection of new arrivals. It sentenced him to only seven years, and counted his previous time in prison against the sentence. Paroled in 1970, Hoecker went back to his job as head teller at the bank in Lübbecke.

Karl Hoecker died in 2000 at the age of 89.

(source: USHMM, Washington)

  • December 1911~2000

The Warsaw Uprising and Deportation from Warsaw to Auschwitz

Thursday, 16 August 2007

At 5:00 p.m. on August 1, precisely 63 years after the start of the Warsaw Uprising, Museum Director Piotr M.A. Cywi?ski and accompanying persons placed wreaths at the Death Wall in commemoration of this tragic event.

In their punitive response to the Uprising, the Germans deported some 13 thousand Warsaw residents to Auschwitz, including infants, children, and the elderly. Approximately 300 men, women, and children from Warsaw were still in Auschwitz at the time of liberation.

The memory of these events is reflected in numerous Museum publications, and is a permanent concern of the International Center for Education about Auschwitz and the Holocaust.

The Center offers, for both teachers and interested students, a thematic unit titled The Exodus of the Civilian Population from the Warsaw Uprising from the Perspective of the Transports Sent to Auschwitz.

In April 2007, the Museum published a new, expanded edition of the frequently reprinted collection of stories about children in Auschwitz titled Dzieci?stwo w pasiakach [Childhood in a striped camp uniform]. This is one of the most moving documents of the tragic fate of Auschwitz prisoners, and a shocking image of the camp as seen through the eyes of children. Its author, Bogdan Bartnikowski, fought in the Uprising at the age of 12 as a courier in the Ochota district. He and his mother were deported to Auschwitz on August 12, 1944.

Several years earlier, in 2000, the Museum published the monumental Ksi?ga Pami?ci. Transporty Polaków z Warszawy do KL Auschwitz 1940-1944 [Memorial Book: Transports of Poles from Warsaw to Auschwitz, 1940-1944], dedicated to the Poles deported to Auschwitz from the so-called “Warsaw District.” It contains all the names known to historians of Warsaw residents sent to Auschwitz in connection with the Uprising.

Deportation from Warsaw to Auschwitz

After the outbreak of the Uprising, the Germans deported a total of approximately 13 thousand Warsaw residents to Auschwitz, by way of the transit camp in Pruszków. The largest contingent, nearly 6 thousand people, including children and youths, arrived in Auschwitz on August 12 and 13, 1944. Over 3 thousand more people were deported on September 4. The next two transports, on September 13 and 17, included almost 4 thousand people.

Infants and the elderly alike arrived in Auschwitz II-Birkenau. Those imprisoned included people of other nationalities as well, some of whom were Jews who had been in hiding on “Aryan papers.”

The majority of prisoners from the “Warsaw transports” were transferred at some later date to camps in the Third Reich, and put to work in the armaments industry. At least 600 women from Warsaw and children, including children born in the camp, were transferred to camps in Berlin in January 1945.

Some Warsaw residents died during the Death Marches; others lived to be liberated at camps in the depths of the Reich. At least 298 men, women, and children from Warsaw were liberated in Auschwitz.

Deportation from Warsaw to Auschwitz

After the outbreak of the Uprising, the Germans deported a total of approximately 13 thousand Warsaw residents to Auschwitz, by way of the transit camp in Pruszków. The largest contingent, nearly 6 thousand people, including children and youths, arrived in Auschwitz on August 12 and 13, 1944. Over 3 thousand more people were deported on September 4. The next two transports, on September 13 and 17, included almost 4 thousand people.

Infants and the elderly alike arrived in Auschwitz II-Birkenau. Those imprisoned included people of other nationalities as well, some of whom were Jews who had been in hiding on “Aryan papers.”

The majority of prisoners from the “Warsaw transports” were transferred at some later date to camps in the Third Reich, and put to work in the armaments industry. At least 600 women from Warsaw and children, including children born in the camp, were transferred to camps in Berlin in January 1945.

Some Warsaw residents died during the Death Marches; others lived to be liberated at camps in the depths of the Reich. At least 298 men, women, and children from Warsaw were liberated in Auschwitz.

Boy from Ukraine

A boy from Ukraine with camp number 58076, arrested in KL Auschwitz as Ukrainian political prisoner.

Dutch Female Prisoner

A Dutch female prisoner with camp number 25 563 and marked with IBV sumbol (Internationale Bibelforscher-Vereinigung — the Jehova wintess)

Camp Number Z-63598

Female prisoner of Auschwitz, name unknown. Camp number Z-63598, arrived on October 10, 1943.

  • October 10, 1943.

Prisoner of the Gypsy Camp

One of water colours made by order of camp doctor Dr Josef Mengele showing a female prisoner from Gypsy camp.

Prisoner Personal Card

Report on Removal of Gold Teeth

The reports contain: date, prisoner's camp number, sometimes the name, number of removed teeth divided to made of gold and other precious metals and a total number of removed teeth. Some reports had two copies. 

A Punishment Report for Icek Schultz

Order of Departure to Dessau

The order of departure to Dessau for Cyclon B, gas used to kill people in gas chambers, from July 30, 1943.



  • July 30, 1943

Car order for the "writing letter action"

A car order for SS-Untersturmführer Hartenberger from RSHA to visit Auschwitz subcamps for the "writing letter action". Jewish prisoners were forced to write letters containing a standard formula "I am well and I feel all right".

List of Prisoners Workgroups

A list of prisoner workgroups from Auschwitz II-Birkenau camp. There are numbers from workgroups 57B and 60B "Heizer" (stokers) working on daily and night shifts in crematories I-IV. 

Jozi Chajdarow

A photo of Jozi Chajdarow, Soviet PWO from Uzbekistan who died in KL Auschwitz on March 4, 1942.

  • March 4, 1942

Soviet POWs

Nazis murdered about 15 000 Soviet POWs in KL Auschwitz. 

Girl from Hungary

Liberated Baby

One of the babies that was among the liberated prisoners of KL Auschwitz

Documentation of Experiments

A photo taken by the members of Soviet medical team documenting criminal experiments performed on prisoners in the camp.

Page From the Morgue Book

Lists of numbrers of prisoners who died in KL Auschwitz gathered in 4 books.

The notes were taken from 7.10.1941-31.8.1943;

(book 1 from 7.10.1941 to 28.2.1942;

book 2 from 21.3.1942 to 30.9.1942;

book 3 from 30.10.1942-11.12.1942;

book 4 from 12.12.1942 to 31.8.1943).

The lists contain: date, serial number, prisoner's camp number, number of block from where the body was brought and a signature of the prisoner making the record.

In book 1, on pages 205, 207 and 208 there are names of prisoners from the leichentager (body carriers) workgroup; at the end pages (45-47) of book 3 there are statistics as well as names and camp numbers of prisoners from the leichentrager workgroup.  

Page From the Officer on Duty Book

A record from October 9, 1942 

  • October 9, 1942

Death Certificate of Polish Prisoner Janusz Pogonowski

Death certificate of Polish prisonerJanusz Pogonowski (in the camp as Janusz Skrzetuski)

Humiliation of Girls in Concentration Camps

“I stare directly ahead as I take off my clothes. I am afraid. By not looking at anyone I hope no one will see me . . . I hesitate before removing my bra. My breasts are two growing buds, taut and sensitive. I can't have anyone see them. I decide to leave my bra on. Just then a shot rings out. The charge is ear-shattering. Some women begin to scream. Others weep. I quickly take my bra off...A burden was lifted. The burden of individuality. Of associations. Of identity. Of the recent past."  -

Livia Bitton-Jackson (Halbmayr

Livia Bitton Jackson, was fifteen years old when she was deported to Auschwitz.  It takes just the slap of a whip by an SS guard to begin to realize what is going on, and what she is going to have to go through.  She understands that she is going to have to undress in front of all of the guards and other prisoners.  Being only fifteen, she is shy and humiliated.

"In the concentration camps, the Nazis perfected a process of sexual humiliation that disoriented girls and women at the very same time that they were separated from their families. Girls and women who, on their arrival at a camp, were not chosen for immediate death, underwent a gamut of humiliations, including exposure, crude body searches for hidden jewelry, painful body shaves and sexual ridicule. Even at the moments before death, SS men tried to demoralize Jewish women" 

Lieb Langfuss,

One survivor was a member of the "sonderkommando", or the group of Jewish prisoners chosen by the SS guards to aid with the disposal of victims killed from the gas chambers.  He witnessed a lot of things, mostly having to do with the degradation and humiliation of women, before and after their deaths.

He recalled that before girls were gassed, the SS guards "had the custom of standing at the doorway… and feeling the private parts of the young women entering the gas bunker. There were also instances of SS men of all ranks pushing their fingers into the sexual organs of pretty young women." After they were gassed,"mothers with small children are on principle unfit for work.  After they were gassed, they were searched to see if they had not hidden jewelry in the intimate parts of their bodies, and their hair was cut off and methodically placed in sacks for industrial purposes"


One source, Irena Liebman, a survivor from Mauthausen described the scene she witnessed when she first arrived at the camp: “Then suddenly one of the criminal Germans came and he had two tins of sardines.  And he went to one woman and e had intercourse with her, one of those thing scarecrows…he gave her the two tins, she stood up and he did his thing.  And it was the first time I saw that, you understand what that means?”

Everyone knows women were treated extremely poorly during the Holocaust.  Everyone was;  men, women and children.  However, with most of the German soldiers being men, women were victimized most frequently.  Being sexually assaulted and abused by German SS soldiers who made their power and presence known did not help anyone’s self esteem, outlook on life in the camps and chance of survival.  

Many women were traumatized by these experiences, but some actually benefited.  “Through a relationship with an SS man or a prisoner of higher rank within the hierarchical system, a women prisoner could significantly increase her chance of survival” (Hedgepeth, 35).   

These women would sometimes receive more, better food, clothing, items to take care of herself and also easier work.  This book goes into great depth explaining how women were abused, the different types of abuse they endured, and has some survivors to tell their stories. 

Zipora Nir recalls: 

“Afterward they shaved us and that is one of my traumas- that was very hard for me…that was one of the greatest degredations.  That they shaved us from head to toe, all that- that, that is a terrible humiliation” Hedgepeth, 35).  Women with shaved heads being selected for labor; Auschwitz, 1944

The Nazis truly did not care about these humans one bit.   In Lieb Langfuss' testimony, he recalls the SS guards demoralizing women and girls even after the were killed, by shaving their heads and searching for hidden jewelry.  It is truly disgusting what these people put the Jews through.  These people are forced out of their homes and into concentration camps.  They are most likely separated from their families upon arrival or killed right there.  

They are hardly fed and are preforming intense labor.  On top of all of this, they have to try to keep positive and try to stay alive for as long as they can, while being sexually abused and harassed at the same time?  The stories these girls told were heartbreaking.  All they could talk about was the humiliation, the feelings of hopelessness.  How low they felt once their heads were shaved, how they lost all hope of getting out of the concentration camp alive.  Many women also talked about the lack of menstruating once they arrived at the camps due to lack of nutrition or medical experiments done that resulted in sterilization.

 Often times, that was the hardest thing for women.  Some felt that their lives meant nothing anymore without menstruating, therefore without being able to have a baby.  Most gave up all hope and gave themselves up to the Nazis.

Therese Brandl~War Criminal


Therese ("Rose", "Rosi") Brandl 

(February 1, 1902 – January 28, 1948)

Was a Nazi concentration camp guard. She was convicted of crimes against humanity after the war and executed.

Born in Staudach-EgerndachBavaria, Brandl enteredRavensbrück concentration camp in March 1940 to begin her training under SS-Oberaufseherin Maria Mandel.

She quickly rose through the ranks there and became aRapportaufseherin (her main task was to count women at roll call and hand out punishments). In March 1942, Brandl was one of several SS women to be assigned to Auschwitz I camp in occupied Poland.

Her jobs there included watching over women in the sorting sheds and as a Rapportaufseherin. In October 1942, she was moved to the newly opened Auschwitz II camp at Birkenau. At Auschwitz, Brandl soon rose through the ranks and became an Erstaufseherin (First Guard) alongside Margot Dreschel and Irma Grese.

In the summer of 1943, she received a medal from the Reich for her "good conduct" in the camps. In November 1944, with the approach of the Soviet Army, she was sent to the Muhldorf Forest subcamp of Dachau along with Mandel and she was demoted to Aufseherin. Not many reports have surfaced about Brandl's behavior at Muhldorf. She ultimately fled from Muhldorf on April 27, 1945, weeks before the arrival of the United States Army.

On August 29, 1945, the U.S. Army arrested her in the Bavarian mountains of Germany and sent her to a holding camp to await questioning. In November 1947 she was tried by the Polish authorities along with Maria Mandel, Luise DanzHildegard Lächert and Alice Orlowski in the Auschwitz Trial at Kraków. On December 22, 1947, Brandl was proclaimed guilty of participating in the selection of inmates to be put to death. She was hanged in prison on January 28, 1948.


  • February 1, 1902 – January 28, 1948

Karl Ernst Möckel~War Criminal

Karl Ernst Möckel

 (January 9, 1901 - January 28, 1948)

Was an SS-Obersturmbannführer (Lieutenant Colonel) and administrator at Auschwitz concentration camp. He was executed as a war criminal.

Möckel was born in KlingenthalGermany where, after secondary school, he worked as an accountant. In 1926, he joined the Nazi party and the Schutzstaffel. From 1933 - 1941, he worked in the main offices of the SS, including theSS-Wirtschafts-Verwaltungshauptamt (WVHA). In 1941, he joined the Waffen-SS, the SS combat arm, and served in a reserve battalion. In Spring 1943, he arrived at Auschwitz taking over as the head of the administration of the camp.

At Auschwitz

Möckel remained at the camp until its evacuation in January of 1945. As head of Department IV (Administration), he was responsible for the acquisition and distribution of food and clothing and the management of prisoners' property. In addition, Department IV encompassed the management of the property confiscated from exterminated prisoners, as well as building maintenance, which included the servicing of the crematoria and gas chambers,  and thus Möckel's responsibilities also facilitated the perpetration of the Holocaust.

Due to the sheer volume of money and valuables (mainly jewellery and watches made from precious metals) confiscated from prisoners, SS men struggled to keep up with the task of inspecting, sorting and counting them. Möckel stated that fifteen to twenty suitcases of valuables were sent to the WVHA quarterly.


Möckel was tried by the Supreme National Tribunal in Kraków and sentenced to death. His sentenced was carried out by hanging in Montelupich Prison, Kraków on the 28th January 1948.

At the rank of SS-Obersturmbannführer (Lt. Colonel, the rank also held by Rudolf Höss), Möckel was the joint-highest ranking individual to be prosecuted at the Auschwitz Trial. (The other being a commandant of the Auschwitz main camp, Arthur Liebehenschel.)


  • January 9, 1901 - January 28, 1948

Ludwig Plagge~War Criminal

Ludwig Plagge 

(January 13, 1910 - January 22, 1948)

Was anSS-Oberscharführer and member of staff at AuschwitzBuchenwald andMajdanek concentration camps. He was prosecuted at the Auschwitz Trial.

Born in Landesbergen, Plagge completed eight years of school and became a farmer. He joined the Nazi party on December 1, 1931, and the SS in October 1934, with the membership number 270620. On November 20, 1939 he began active service and was assigned to Sachsenhausen concentration camp where he stayed until the end of June 1940. He was subsequently posted to Auschwitz in July 1940, and was one of the first SS men there.

He remained there until October 4, 1943.

His roles included Blockführer (Block leader) (including in Block 11, the death block) and SS Rapportführer. In the gypsy camp in Birkenau he had the role of deputy roll call leader from its opening through autumn 1943, and in the summer was also acting protective custody leader (Schutzhaftlagerführer). From Auschwitz he was posted to the Majdanek camp in Lublin, then in 1944 he was in Flossenbürg concentration camp. He was also a member of Lebensborn.

Plagge was noted for his brutality, particularly to Jews. He participated in the gassing of thousands of Sinti and Roma people, and Jews from Theresienstadt.

He was known for submitting prisoners to punishment in the form of physical exercises, known as "sport" in the camp. Prisoners in quarantine were also made to do these exercises. On demand, a group of prisoners were expected to undertake any action, such as walking, singing, running, crawling on one's elbows and tips of the toes, roll around on the ground covered with gravel and crushed bricks, etc. 

Plagge was a specialist in the invention of these exercises, which were to be performed very quickly without any regard to the age and health of the prisoners. He would make prisoners run for hours while carrying his pipe between his teeth, and hit those who fell, forcing them to carry on. Prisoners nicknamed him das Pfeifchen (the little pipe).


Plagge was prosecuted by the Supreme National Tribunal at the Auschwitz Trial in Kraków. During the trial he admitted to only beating prisoners. Hoping his life would be spared, he told the court that after atonement for his crimes, he will be regarded as a good man, but was sentenced to death due to the overwhelming evidence against him. He was executed on January 22, 1948  by hanging in Montelupich Prison, Kraków.

  • January 13, 1910 - January 22, 1948

Fritz Buntrock~War Criminal

Fritz Buntrock [died January 28, 1948] was as SS-Unterscharfuher atAuschwitz. He was prosecuted at the Auschwitz Trial.

Buntrock was tried by the Supreme National Tribunal in Krakow and sentenced to death. He was hanged inMontelupich Prison on January 28, 1948.

  • January 28, 1948

Josef Kollmer~War Criminal

Josef Kollmer 

(February 26, 1901 – January 28, 1948)

Was anSS-Obersturmführer at Auschwitz. He was prosecuted at the Auschwitz Trial.

Born in Händlern, Bavaria, Kollmer was a farmer by trade. He became a member of the SS on January 1, 1935 after having previously spent several years in the German police force.

He joined the Nazi party in May 1937.

In October 1941 he was drafted into the Waffen-SS and was assigned to Auschwitz, where he commanded various guard companies until October 1943. He then temporarily transferred to Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp, but returned to Auschwitz in May 1944.

Initially he commanded the guard company at Auschwitz main camp, then later the one at Monowitz concentration camp from August to October 1944. During his time at Auschwitz, Kollmer participated in the extermination of Jews in the Birkenau gas chambers, and carried out executions against the shooting wall between blocks 10 and 11 and at the Buna factory.

Kollmer was tried by the Supreme National Tribunal at the Auschwitz Trial in Kraków and was sentenced to death. His sentence was carried out by hanging in Montelupich Prison, Kraków.

  • February 26, 1901 – January 28, 1948

Eric Muhsfeldt~War Criminal

SS-Oberscharführer Eric Mußfeldt 

(18 February 1913 – 28 January 1948)

Was a senior NCO of the Sonderkommando at the Auschwitz concentration camp.

He originally served in Auschwitz I in 1940, and was then transferred to the work/extermination camp at Majdanek on 15 November 1941. When the camp at Majdanek was closed down, he was involved in the final mass shooting of the camp's remaining inmates, before his transfer back to Auschwitz, where he then served as supervising officer of the Jewish Sonderkommando in Crematorium II and III in Auschwitz II (Birkenau).

Although a mass murderer, he had an unusual relationship at Auschwitz with renowned Jewish-Hungarian pathologist Dr. Miklós Nyiszli, who was forced to carry out autopsies on behalf of Dr Josef Mengele. Dr. Nyiszli survived the war and later gave evidence about what happened at Auschwitz.

Dr Nyiszli described one incident when Mußfeldt came to him for a routine check-up, after shooting 80 prisoners in the back of the head prior to their cremation. Dr. Nyiszli commented that Mußfeldt's blood pressure was high, and inquired as to whether this could be related to the recent increase in 'traffic', as the mass murder of newly arrived victims was euphemistically called. Mußfeldt replied angrily that if he shot one person or eighty, it made no difference to him. If his blood pressure was too high, it was because he drank too much.

After the war had ended he was arrested, tried in Kraków by theSupreme National Tribunal in 1947, where he was sentenced to death. He was executed by hanging on 28 January 1948.

  • 18 February 1913 – 28 January 1948

August Bogusch~War Criminal

August Raimond Bogusch

 (August 5, 1890 - January 28, 1948)

Was an SS-Scharführer and member of staff at Auschwitz concentration camp. He was prosecuted at the Auschwitz Trial.

Bogusch was born in LubliniecUpper Silesia.

He joined theNazi Party in October 1932 and the SS in April 1933 (number 51922). On August 21, 1939 he was drafted into the SS-Totenkopfverbände and was posted to Buchenwald concentration camp.

He was at Auschwitz from January 27, 1941, to January 18, 1945, where he was - among other things - a Schutzhaftlagerführer (protective custody) guard and a Blockführer (block leader). After the evacuation of Auschwitz he was sent to Mysen concentration camp near Oslo, and in February 1945, was transferred back to Buchenwald. He was also deployed to Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp.

In the summer of 1943, Bogusch participated in the extermination process, where he selected Jews from arriving transports to the gas chambers. During the occupation of Poland, the Polish underground declared on London radio that he would be punished by death.

After the war

Bogusch was captured by the Allies and released to the Polish authorities. He was tried by the Supreme National Tribunal in Kraków and sentenced to death. His sentenced was carried out by hanging in Montelupich Prison, Kraków.

  • August 5, 1890 - January 28, 1948

Paul Götze~War Criminal

Paul Götze 

(November 13, 1903 - January 28, 1948)

Was an SS-Rottenführerat Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps.

Born in Halle, Götze was a painter by profession.

He joined the Nazi party in 1937 and the SS in 1942. In July 1942 he was posted to Auschwitz, where he initially served as a guard and supervisor of work groups. From February to May 1943 he was Blockführer in the Auschwitz main camp, later performing the same function in the gypsy camp in Birkenau from May 1943 to August 1944. In August 1944 he was transferred to Buchenwald.

Although prisoners held Götze as a reasonable man out of SS men at the camp, he took an active part in the killing of Jews and prisoners unable to work in the Birkenau gas chambers, such as assisting with the loading and unloading of people marked for gassing when large amounts of people were marked for extermination. He participated in the liquidation of the gypsy camp in August 1944.

Götze was tried by the Supreme National Tribunal at the Auschwitz Trial in Kraków and was sentenced to death. His sentenced was carried out by hanging in Montelupich Prison, Kraków.

  • November 13, 1903 - January 28, 1948

Contributor: bgill
Created: November 6, 2011 · Modified: April 18, 2014

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