Camps Specializing in Death and Destruction of Mankind

By: Suzy Byers

College English Larry Nueburger March 5,2009

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Millions of innocent men, women, and children lost their lives when Adolf Hitler decided to take over and dispose of anyone who opposed him or stood in the path of world domination. Hitler not only went after political figures such as German Communists, Socialists, and other leftist groups, he also targeted people based on ideology, race, and religion. Hitler and other Nazis began establishing camps to detain the ever-growing number of people the regime viewed as opponents. The first camps built, according to the United States Memorial Museum, housed leftists prisoners. These first camps served as labor camps where the people detained there worked as slave labor in horrible conditions with an insufficient amount of food and clothing. (page 1) Nazis hoped the harsh conditions would kill the majority of the prisoners. Many detainees did die after literally being worked to death, but as more and more people came into the camps, the Nazis no longer felt the death rate met the Nazis expectations. They came up with a “Final Solution” to solve the problem. The “Final Solution” included constructing camps to carry out mass killings efficiently. According to Jewishgen.org, Chelmno, the first killing center, came about in December of 1941. Chelmno, also known as Kulmhof, began the first wave of mass killings of Jews by gassing them. Three gas vans equipped to pump carbon monoxide from the driver’s cab into the back of the van where crammed Jews awaited their sure death. Jews came to this camp via train. Once they arrived in Chelmno, Sonderkommando, forced laborers, forced them to undress and divide into groups of fifty. Once they had undressed and divided into groups, they marched into awaiting vans. After everyone crammed inside the van, the engine started and exhaust fumes piped in through pipes filled the van. It only took

Byers 3 approximately fifteen minutes before everyone inside the van died. The driver of the van then drove two and half miles to a forest where mass graves dug by Jewish slave labor awaited the dead inside the van. Another team of Jews had to unload the corpses and throw them in the graves. The method of gassing the Jews proved to be very effective even though it seemed to be fairly simple. By the time the camp closed in June 1944, the estimated death toll ranges from 150,000 to 300,000, the majority being Jews. The death toll seems high but in comparison to the other killing centers, it ranks relatively low. (page1-2) The next death camp is Belzec. The Jewish Virtual Library (Jewishvirtuallibrary.org) believes Belzec was the model for the other two death camps, Treblinka and Sobibor. Belzec started out as a labor camp in April 1940,. However, in November of 1941construction began to convert the labor camp into a death camp. Nazis split the camp into two smaller camps. The first camp contained administration buildings and barracks. The larger section contained an open area where deportees separated into groups, barracks where deportees lost their clothing, belongings, and hair, storerooms for the stolen goods, and Sonderkommado huts, employees of the SS guards who carried out duties involved with the murder of hundreds of thousands of people. The second camp contained the gas chambers where the actual murders of the camp took place. Belzec had three gas chambers lined with tin and equipped with two airtight doors. Once the chambers had been filled, it only took about thirty minutes for the carbon monoxide pumped in from diesel engines outside the chambers to kill everyone inside. Then a team of Jewish laborers, selected earlier in the day from the same train load of Jews who had just been killed, had to unload the dead from the chamber and carry them to the burial pits. The process proved to be very effective and efficient but the death rate did not meet the SS officers’ satisfaction. In June of 1942, construction began to increase the capacity the chambers could hold. A

Byers 4 new concrete and brick building containing six gas chambers came underway. Each new chamber measured thirteen by sixteen feet; this allowed twelve hundred Jews to be euthanized at one time. By the time the camp closed in December 1942, around 600,000 Jews and 12,000 Gypsies had been killed. To cover up these murders, SS officers ordered the mass graves in which the dead laid in to be burned in the early months of 1943. (page1-2) The Jewish Virtual Library (Jewishvirtuallibrary.org) says Sobibor, the first camp designed after the parent camp Belzec, also tried to cover up the 260,000 murders committed there in the camp’s gas chambers. After the camp closed in October 1943, the camp tried to disguise itself as a farm. (page 1) Auschwitz.dk states Treblinka, the second camp designed after Belzec, also wanted to hide the crimes on humanity they had committed. Over 850,000 people died in Treblinka from it’s opening in the spring of 1942 to it’s closing in November of 1943. Frank Stangl, Commandant of Treblinka, stated “ Regarding the question of the optimum amount of people gassed in one day, I can state: according to my estimation a transport of thirty freight cars with 3,000 people was liquidated in three hours, 1,200 to 15,000 people were annihilated. There were many days that the work lasted from early morning until evening…I have done nothing to anybody that was not my duty. My conscience is clear.” Stangl stated this after being asked during his later trial how many people could be killed in one day. (page 1-3) Even though 850,000 people lost their lives in Treblinka, Treblinka still did not have the highest death toll. According to United States Memorial Museum, Auschwitz had the highest death toll, and it happened to be the largest death camp. 960,000 Jews died there. 74,000 Poles, 21,000 Gypsies, and 15,000 Soviet prisoners of war also died in Auschwitz. Another 10,000 to 15,000 other nationalities died in Auschwitz too.

Byers 5 Auschwitz consisted of three main parts. Auschwitz I, near Oswiecim, came under construction in May 1940 in abandoned polish barracks by forced laborers deported there by SS officers. The first prisoners there included German criminals and Polish political prisoners. The camp had three main purposes: to imprison real or suspected enemies of the Nazi regime indefinitely, have a supply of slave labor, and a place to kill small targeted people. Auschwitz I, like many other camps had a small gas chamber and crematorium. The size of it only allowed a small number of people to be processed at one time. Auschwitz II, however, could process and kill a lot more people at one time. Auschwitz II, Auschwitz Birkenau, came under construction in October 1941 near Brzezinka. Several sections divided the camp. For example, race, religion, and gender all went in different sections. The main section of Auschwitz Birkenau and the main reason for the camp happened to be the killing center. Futhermore, according to United States Memorial Museum, two farmhouses near Birkenau had been converted into gas chambers in 1942, but they did not prove to be adequate and eventually closed when four large buildings went up in March1945. They each housed an undressing area, a large gas chamber, and crematorium ovens. These crematorium buildings made it possible for the Nazis to carryout their plan of ridding the world of the Jews. Some Jews did have a bit of luck during these dark times though. Jews sent to Auschwitz III, Buna, had life just a bit easier than those in the other camps did. Buna housed the prisoners who worked as forced laborers in the nearby rubber factory. They also suffered many hardships also, but they lived in better barracks and had a little more food to eat. However, the Nazis considered them nothing more than a number and survivors of the

Byers 6 Holocaust will always remember how the Nazis thought of them by the number tattooed on their left arm. (1-3)Today survivors of the Holocaust should be considered heroes by everyone, because through their stories Hitler’s and the Nazi regime’s plans, beliefs, and feelings of greed, hate, racism, and violence can be forever remembered. The Death Factories should have never been constructed. However, people did build them and millions of good men, women, and children died because of it. Hopefully, by remembering what happened in the camps during the Holocaust, we can prevent history from repeating itself and prevent millions of innocent lives from being taken.

Byers 7 Bibliography

Gilbert, Martin. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Feb. & March 2009. 8 Mar. 2009 <http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/article.php?lang=en&moduled=10007214>. Vashem, Yad. "Camp d'extermination de Chelmno (Pologne)." JewishGen: The Home of Jewish Genealogy. 11 Mar. 2009. 23 Mar. 2009 <http://www.jewishgen.org/ForgottenCamps/Camps/ChelmnoFr.html>. Bard, Mitchell G. Jewish Virtual Library - Homepage. 4 Mar. 2009. 11 Mar. 2009 <http://www.Jewishvirtuallibrary.org/source/Holocaust/Belzec.html>. Bülow, Louis. The Holocaust, Crimes, Heroes and Villains. 4 Mar. 2009. 23 Mar. 2009 <http://www.Auschwitz.dk/Treblinka.html>.