The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Shofar FTP Archive File: camps/auschwitz//auschwitz.06

Newsgroups: alt.revisionism
Subject: Holocaust Almanac - The Origins of Auschwitz
Followup-To: alt.revisionism
Organization: The Nizkor Project
Keywords: Auschwitz,Eichmann,Himmler,Ho"ss,Weczler,Vrba

Archive/File: camps/auschwitz/auschwitz.06
Last-modified: 22 Feb 93. knm

"On April 7, 1944, two Slovakian Jews, twenty-six-year-old Alfred Weczler
and twenty-year-old Rudolf Vrba, escaped from Auschwitz. They provided the
first eyewitness account of the concentration and extermination camp to the
western world, an account that set off the chain of events that led to the
Nuremberg trial.

When Hitler dismantled Czechoslovakia in 1939, he had left the Slovaks
nominally in charge of their own internal affairs, dependent on good
behavior. The Slovaks had copied most of the German anti-Semitic laws,
expropriated Jewish businesses, removed the Jews from government and the
professions, and left them with little opportunity to earn a living. By
the spring of 1942 most of the eighty thousand Jews were unemployed and
compressed into a few blocks in two cities, Sered and Novaky.

In March, Adolf Eichmann, the head of the Gestapo's Jewish Section, offered
to take seventeen thousand of the unemployed Jews off the Slovakian
government's hands for, ostensably, work in German arms factories. On April
13, Weczler, packed with threescore other men into a small freight car
furnished with a single bucket of water, became part of a transport of 640
men destined for Auschwitz.

Auschwitz lay thirty miles west of Cracow, Poland's fifth largest city, and
was on the direct railroad line to German Upper Silseia. Before the German
attack in September 1939, Auschwitz had been a Polish army camp. In May
1940, Rudolf Franz Ho"ss,* the adjutant at the Sachsenhausen concentration
camp, was detailed with thirty men to establish a new compound at Auschwitz.

Until the early spring of 1941, Auschwitz, containing nine thousand inmates,
was an installation approximately the same size as earlier German
concentration camps, such as Dachau and Buchenwald. Then, as Hitler prepared
the assault on Russia, Heinrich Himmler, the head of the SS and German
police, came to Auschwitz and told Ho"ss that the camp would have to be
expanded to accommodate a large population of 130,000 - 100,000 of them
Soviet prisoners of war. The inhabitants of seven villages standing on
the swampy, malarial ground between the Sury and the Vistula rivers west of
Auschwitz were to be dispossessed and removed as farm laborers to Germany.
Since this area was thickly covered with birch trees, the Germans called the
new part of the concentration camp Birkenau (`in the birches').

Weczler's transport arrived in Auschwitz after midnight on April 15 --
arrivals were usually timed so that the twelve thousand residents of the
adjoining town would not be witness to their coming. Stumbling stiff and
bewildered out of the cars into the glare of spotlights, the men were lined
up in a column of five. Carrying their heavy luggage -- for they had been
told to come well equipped -- they were marched a mile to a building, where
they were ordered to strip. Their heads and bodies were shaved roughly, they
were given showers, and then were disinfected with Lysol. Each man had a
number tattooed onto his left breast, a procedure so painful that many
passed out. (Later, to simplify processing, the Germans changed the location
of the tattoos to inmates' left arms.) It was ten o'clock in the morning
before the operation was completed.

Outfitted with wooden clogs and Russian uniforms daubed with red paint,
Weczler and his compatriots were taken to Birkenau. There he learned that
only 150 of the twelve thousand Russian prisoners of war detailed in
December 1941 to work on the camp's construction had survived the winter.
Quartered in half-finished, unheated buildings, they had died of exposure,
starvation, and disease. The Birkenau camp, a mile long and half-mile wide,
was encompassed, like Auschwitz, by two rings of electrified barbed wire.
Along these, watchtowers were placed every 150 yeards. Only a few buildings
had so far been completed, though the ultimate goal was to expand the camp
to an area covering some two hundred square miles.

The men were awakened at three o'clock every morning and marched off at four
to clear land and work on the construction of factories of Siemens,
Germany's largest electrical manufacturer; I.G. Farben, the nation's leading
chemical company; and the Deutsche Aurustungswerke (German Defense Works),
an SS enterprise. Jews not capable of labor were executed.

Except for a half-hour break at noon, when the prisoners each received a
bowl of filthy carrot, cabbage, or turnip soup, the work continued
uninterrupted until 6 PM. For supper, the men received one ounce -- a little
over one slice -- of moldy bread made from ersatz flour and sawdust. They
slept in almost windowless barracks with steeply pitched roofs resembling
stables. Tiers of balconies, honeycombed with cells two and one-half feet
high, each shared by three men, ran along the walls, giving the building the
appearance of a giant beehive.

Lice and fleas torutred the men. Rats were so bold they gnawed at the toes
and fingers of sleepers and stole carefully preserved crumbs of bread out of
their pockets. A third of the prisoners died every week -- the sick and
injured were taken to the infirmary, where they were granted two to three
days to recover or expire. If they did neither, they were spritzed -- given
a fatal injection of phenol directly into the heart. At the end of two
weeks, only 150 of the 640 men Weczler had arrived with were still alive. By
August 15, all but 159 of the 2,722 on the first four transports from
Slovakia were dead. (Conot, 3-5)

* Not to be confused with Rudolf Hess, the Nazi Party secretary until May

                                Work Cited

Conot, Robert E. Justice at Nuremberg. New York: Harper and Row, Publishers. 

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