Extermination camps

Introduction

The personnel and methods trained at the T4 centers were later used in the extermination camps for the final solution. During the final solution the jews and other racial groups viewed as sub-humans were killed. The T4 personnel formed the staff of the camps with the men trained at trawniki acting as general guards. Many of the people concentrated in ghettos and concentration camps were transported to the camp by train. In the extermination camps only a few prisoners were kept alive in order to help with the killings of people.

the prisoners in the camps can roughly be divided into 2 categories. first, the sondercommando. These prisoners lifed in a barrack next to the gas chamber and had no contact with people in the rest of the camp. They were responsible for cleaning the gas chamber and burrying or burning the corpes. The second grouped lived in the so called forlager. These people were responsible for the reception of the people in the trains and sorting out the belongings after they were killed.

Many of the belonging were send back to germany to aid the people affacted by them bombings, or just for personal enrichement.

auschwitz gaschamber

The wannsee conference

At the begining of 1942 most of the Jews were collected in ghettos, concentration camps and designated living areas. In Russia the einsatzgruppen where committing war crimes by massacring Jews and other “Sub-humans” in Russia. However, the ghettos and concentration camps were filled up and could not handle more people coming in. Also, the possibility for forced emigration of Jews was no longer a possibility due to the world war. Therefore, a meeting was called to find a final solution. The final solution was a synonym for killing all the Jews and sub-humans. This topic was discussed during the wansee conference on the 20th of January 1942, led by the infamous Reinhard Heydrich. During this meeting a rough plan, without exact order, was formulated on how to kill the people in the most efficient manner. 2 types of camp can be determined. Pure extermination camps such as: chelmno, sobibor, Treblinka and Belzec. Also hybrid camps existed in which both extermination and concentration of people took place: majdanek & Auschwitz. Some smaller extermination camps in which the prisoners were executed existed: maly trostenets and sajmiste. In short, you may call the camps murder factories.

full ghetto

The killing proces

The most efficient manner was found in the method used during aktion t4: gassing by exhaust fumes. The victims were kept in the unknown about their final fate. They were transported to the camps in cattle wagons with the excuse that they were moved to the east to work in labour camps. Once arrived at the camp the found themselves on a ramp. These ramps were kept clean and tidy and sometimes were even disguised as regular train stations. Eastern Jews were usually treated with a lot more violence and abuse than the western people were. This because the eastern Jews already had lived in ghettos and could knew what was coming. Therefore, it was op upmost importance to “process”them as fast as possible in order to prevent riots. Western Jews were treated with less violence and a more friendly composure. On the ramp the camp commandant told the people that they arrived a labour camp. Before they could enter the camp they would have to wash themselves in the shower area and in the meanwhile there cothing and belongings would be cleaned.

This process started by moving to the clothing barracks. One barrack was designated for men and the other for woman, children. In the barracks the people had to strip naked and tie their shoes together. In some camps people had to hand in their valuables and even received a receipt to pick it back up after the showers. Elderly were brought to the lazaret. This was by no means an hospital! It was an execution pit were the elderly were shot. This in order to prevent them from slowing down the processing of the other people.

auschwitz selection ramp

The gaschamber

The naked people were they brought to the gassing “shower” complex via wath the nazis called the himmelsfarth strasse ( the road to heaven). This was a bend road in which the barbedwire fencing was camouflaged by branches and leaves. Only at the very last moment the people could see the bathing house. Most bathing houses, the gaschambers, consisted of a concrete structure with a star of David above the front door. Inside the building a few chambers could be found, complete looking like showers. The rooms had 2 door, one on the inside and 1 to the outside. These rooms were filled with people and sealed of tight. After closure of the rooms a tankengine of which the exhaust was connected to the room was started and the gassing process began. It is estimated that the gassing of people took around 20 minutes. After the people died the doors on the outide of the chambers were opened by the sonderkommando.

Living in the camp

In some of the arrivals the SS selected a few fit people to work in the camp. The camp itself was split in 2 distinct regions. The vorlager and the sonderkommando. The sonderkommando were people selected from the transport to work next to the gas chambers. Their responsibility was to remove to bodies from the gaschambers, clean the gaschambers of excrements and burn or bury the bodies of the death. Also a few dentist were present in the sonderkommando, this in order to remove gold teeth from the corpses. In the vorlager other people were set to work. These were mainly responsible for collecting and ordering all the belongings of the arrivals in order to be able to send it back to Germany.

In total a few transport could be processed a day, with each transport containing roughly about 1600 people. The peak capacity of auschwitz, for instance, was reached during the killing of the Hungarian Jews: 6000 people a day. witnesses stated that trains could be processed by 20 wagon a time, each containing roughly 80 people. The unloading and “processing” of a 20 wagon trainload only took and hour. If a train contained more than 20 wagons the leftover cars were parked outside the camp till they were brought in.

When the Nazis saw that they were losing the was they started to remove all the traces of the extermination camps. This was done by sonderkommando 1005. These people were to exhume all the bodies, cremate them and pulverize all the bones. After this process the whole camp was dismantled and covered by dirt. Finally, the put a makeshift farm on top of the dirt with a guard in it.

auschwitz crematorium painting
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