Life in Auschwitz concentration camp
How life in concentration camp looked like? For sure it was horribly. Within the camps, the Nazis established a hierarchical identification system. Prisoners with higher social status were often rewarded with more desirable work assignment such as administrative positions indoors. Those lower on the social ladder had more physically demanding tasks. Living conditions were hard and extreme but varied greatly from camp to camp and also changed over time.
Daily routine started always with ‘appeal’ – that took place every morning after wake up and every evening after returning from labor. During this time all the prisoners were forced to stand on the main square, often even hours at a time, often in the cold, rain or snow. The camp routine was composed of a long list of orders and instructions. The number of prisoners would be counted. All of strengths had to be enlisted to overcome the daily routine: an early wakeup, arranging the bed’s straw, the lineup, labor, the waiting period for daily meal – usually watery soup and half a piece of bread, retiring to the barracks. There was no time for personal hygiene provided during the daily routine inside camps. No privacy and no real sanitation was provided. Prisoners had to wash in dirty water with no change of clothes for weeks or even months.
After arrived to concentration camp men and women were separated, only little children were allowed to stay with their mothers. After separation and a first segregation, all the prisoners were registered, shaved and tattooed. People usually had their own clothing taken away. They got a uniform: striped jacket and pants, wooden shoes and striped cap. This process was designed to remove a personal identity. Each uniform contained a triangle system:
Red triangles marked political prisoners (mostly Poles),
Green triangles marked criminal prisoners (mostly German),
Black triangles marked asocial prisoners (imprisoned in theory for vagrancy or prostitution, mostly Gypsy),
Purple triangles marked prisoners imprisoned for belonging to Jehovah’s Witnesses, regarded as enemies of the state because of their pacifistic beliefs,
Pink triangles marked homosexual prisoners.
For prisoners the most important moment during the day was meal time. Nazi feeding system inside camp was extremely limited. The prisoners usually used to eat watery soup, rarely they might find there turnip or potato peel. After all the day of hard work prisoners may have been given a small piece of black bread, sometimes tiny piece of sausage or some marmalade or cheese. Because of food deficiencies hunger was big problem in concentration camps. The meagre rations were intended to keep the prisoners alive. Unfortunately many of prisoners starved to death.
There were two types of barracks: brick and wooden. The brick barracks stood in the oldest part of the camp. Inside every barrack were 60 brick partitions with three tiers, which make 180 sleeping places. Wooden barracks had no windows. There was only a row of skylights on either side at the top.
The rooms were overcrowded, but they had neither beds nor any other furniture. People had to sleep on straw-stuffed mattresses laid on the floor – only on their sides, in three rows. Many times a prisoner woke up to find his or her bed-mate dead. Every morning they piled the mattresses in a corner of the room. Particular problems were bugs, that landed on the prisoner and sucked blood. In rooms were also often lices and rats.
Prisoners performed various kinds of labor inside and outside the camp. From March 1942 the minimum working day numbered 11 hours. Most prisoners worked outside the camp – in many factories, construction projects or farms placed many kilometers away from the main camp. Naturally, the workers didn’t receive any payment for their work. Some of Jewish prisoners worked in ‘Sonderkommando’ (Special Work Unit). They were selected due to their strength and fitness, because they had to work in crematoriums in camp. It was very hard work. People from Sonderkommando had to see death of many prisoners every day. The life-expectancy of Sonderkommando was only about four months in the camp!
Prisoners did not have to labor at all on sunday and holidays, which they spent tidying up, washing their clothes etc.
Children in Auschwitz
There were over 1 million children and young people (to the age of 18) deported to the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp. Most of them were Jews, but there were also Gypsies, Poles, Belorussians or even Russians, Ukrainians and others. The majority of them came to camp with their parents in various campaigns directed against whole ethnic or social groups. In the early period of existence of the women’s camp, children born there were put to death, regardless of their ethnicity. From the middle of 1943 non-Jewish newborns were permitted to live. They were entered in the camp records after few days after birth and they were assigned camp numbers. Available documents from Auschwitz indicate that at least 700 children were born in the camp.
The fate of children in camp was the same like the fate of adults. They suffered from hunger and cold. Often children were used as laborers or they were used as subjects in criminal experiments by SS doctors. There was only a little bit better in camp’s hospitals where children could get blankets, food, clothing or medicine.
Many Nazi doctors experimented on prisoners on behalf of German pharmaceutical companies. Others did so in pursuit of their personal interests, e. G. to advance their academic careers. The best known Nazi doctor was Josef Mengele – nicknamed ‘the Angel of Death’. He was an SS physician, infamous for his inhumane medical experimentation at Auschwitz. Mengele had become interested in using twins for medical research. He was also almost fanatical about drawing blood from twins. He is reported to have bled some to death this way. At Auschwitz Mengele had full license to maim or kill his subjects, so he performed a broad range of agonizing and often lethal experiments, usually with Jewish or Gypsy children. He had got also other horrible interestings e.G. he collected the eyes of his murdered victims.
After war Mengele settled in Argentina. He drowned in 1979 in Brazil. Mengele was buried in a suburb of Sao Pãolo under the fictive name ‘Wolfgang Gerhard’’.
Jews in Camp
The mass deportation of Jews to Auschwitz that began in 1942 changed the makeup of the prisoners population. After three months of deportation Jews already made up the most numerous ethnic group. In total, over 1 million Jews were deported to Auschwitz camp. Most of them were killed there. Sometimes when a train carrying Jewish prisoners arrived ‘selections’ would be conducted on the railroad platform. Newly arrived persons were classified to hard labor or send to the gas chambers – these included ill, elderly persons, pregnant women and even children. These people were not entered in the camp records and were not registered, so victims could be much more than 1 million.
Throughout the existence of the camp, The Nazi there treated Jews with the most ruthless and often cruelty. Jews fell victim to starvation, cold, hard labor and cyclical extermination operations. Jewish prisoners suffered worse mistreatment than others during registration. A high proportion of them were sent to the penal company. Under Himmler’s decree, Auschwitz was to play a key role in extermination plans of Jews. Himmler took into account the location in terms of transport and the fact that this area can easily be isolated.
Life of Jewish prisoners in Auschwitz concentration camp wasn’t easy. The inmates were treated more like animals than humans by the Nazi (or even worse).
Nowadays it sounds like a movie script, not like a real life story. It’s very hard to us to believe in those facts. But we should face the fact that it was a real life in concentration and extermination camps. Camps full of hunger, dirt and inhumane conditions. However, the worst thing was vision of death in every moment of being in camp. Death in various possible ways. For anything. Even that, someone is Jew, child or pregnant women. Definately life in Auschwitz concentration camp was hard and full of paint. Let’s never repeat the history of World War II.