Holocaust Auschwitz – Exploring Auschwitz
Auschwitz is one of the best-known concentration camps of the Holocaust. It was the largest of its kind and was actually composed of three separate camps – Auschwitz I, Auschwitz II, also known as Auschwitz-Birkenau, and Auschwitz III or Buna-Monowitz. Most people who think of Auschwitz immediately think of the gas chambers and mass murders that were carried out here. However, Auschwitz's main purpose was to provide forced labor. Laborers were detained in all three of the camps here. Auschwitz-Birkenau was the death camp where the majority of the killings were performed. However, all three camps were filled with their own terrors.
The main camp, or Auschwitz I, is where the officers and staff were housed. This camp was also the center of many inhumane medical experiments. Dr. Carl Clauberg and Dr. Josef Mengele both practiced here. Those who were physically unique were often pulled from the lines and sent to the doctors for experimentation. Dr. Mengele had a special interest in twins and would perform horrendous experiments upon them, often torturing them to death to see if they would react to poisons and other treatments in the same way. The famous sign over the gates of Auschwitz I read "Arbeit Macht Frei," or "work makes one free."
Auschwitz-Birkenau was used primarily as a death camp. When prisoners arrived at Auschwitz, they were immediately sorted by their ability to work. They arrived in cattle cars and were lined up on the unloading platform for sorting. Children, the elderly, and any men or women who looked unfit for work were weeded out and sent directly to the gas chambers. These were designed to resemble showers. The prisoners were instructed to remove their clothing so they could take a shower and get disinfected. Once inside, the doors were locked behind them and lethal Zyklon-B gas was released. The gas chambers were equipped to kill 6,000 people a day.
Those who were not immediately killed in the gas chambers were sent into forced labor. Many of these prisoners would ultimately die from disease or starvation. They were employed in agricultural labor, coal mines, fisheries, armaments, and quarries. Auschwitz III was dedicated to the manufacturing of synthetic rubber and fuel. Workers at Auschwitz were tattooed with a number which would replace their name and any other identity. From late April to early July of 1944, about 440,000 Jews were deported to the camp. Of these, only 110,000 were spared the gas chambers and assigned labor. Auschwitz served as a cruel killing and torture machine for over a million prisoners.