ASSOCIATION OF THE ROMANIAN JEWS
VICTIMS OF THE HOLOCAUST
Oliver Lustig – Survivor of Birkenau-Auschwitz
Translated by Teodorescu Catalina Ioana (second year student at the College of Foreign Languages and Literatures at the University of Bucharest)
Translation edited by Alexandra Beris
2nd Edition, revised and completed
Question: Could you please describe a few SS personalities, so we can get an idea what those beasts looked like, and what was the thinking of those criminals who disavowed all that was human but still considered themselves “superior men”
An executioner by vocation, Heinrich Himmler organized assassinations with passion and precision. Unlike Göring, he didn’t like to make public appearances, to parade his rank, his titles, medals, or stolen riches. Nestled in room 318 on the 4th floor of the famous building at 8 Prinz Albertstrasse in Berlin, he coordinated the assassinations – from individual killings to mass exterminations – in all of Europe and even on the other continents.
Staring at his subordinates with fixed eyes, covered by his pince-nez lenses, he would issue orders – while stroking his mustache – about the place, proportions and rhythm of extermination.
At times he would have the impression that the blood of his victims bedabbled him, that it smeared him. His “butcher’s heart”, as one of the founders of the Nazi party, Georg Strasser, called it, couldn’t care less, but pedantic as he was, it still bothered him that someone may notice those bloodstains on his body. Therefore, his favorite place to study the files and decide the executions was not room 318 on the 4th floor, but an apartment composed of two small rooms in the basement of the same building. He claimed as his own the discovery that, the greater the proportions of the assassinations projected, the greater the need for secrecy in initiating, orchestrating and carrying them out.
He wasn’t even in his 30s when he climbed to the top of the S.S. in 1929. At its foundation in 1927, the Schutz-Staffel (the S.S.), counted only 280 members. Two years later, their number had grown to 52,000. Heinrich Himmler turned the S.S. into the most monstrous institution of terror, a killing machine with dozens and dozens of ramifications, possessing an army of killers which had reached a few thousands. It took over and incorporated the Gestapo and the S.D., all organisms, which were not few, that were handling the surveillance and liquidation of people who had or were suspected of having other ideas, other thoughts than those advanced by the Führer. The S.S. was based on two principles: racial selection and blind obedience. Whoever strays, be it even in thought, will be banished from the S.S. and we will make it a point – Himmler would threaten grimly – that he disappears from the world of the living.
Ober-executioner leading an army of executioners, Himmler had assumed numerous functions: SS Reichsführer., chief of Gestapo, minister of internal affairs, Reicshsleiter of the Nazi party, commander-in-chief of the Vistula army group…
But his most dreaded function, which caused the entire Reich, including all dignitaries, to tremble before him, was the following: Heinrich Himmler represented “the eyes, ears and whip” of Hitler.
A participant and partaker to the “Bierputsch” on November 9, 1923, he started, already back then, to put together lists of files. Relentlessly, he would record the names of Hitler’s adversaries. Starting with 1929, when he became the SS Reichsführer, he directly led all the assassinations, collisions and quarrels with those who opposed Nazism.
After Hitler took charge, Himmler zealously continued his work.
A proponent of ample, sudden and radical action against all potential adversaries of the Führer or of his own, Himmler was among the initiators of the famous “night of long knives” (June 30, 1934). S.S. and Gestapo-agents, in teams of two, would ring the doorbell of generals and ex-ministers, directors and attorneys, politicians and Nazis who knew too much about the past of the movement and didn’t keep their mouths shut. The S.S. and Gestapo-agents waited for the door to open and then pulled the trigger. They left their victims writhing on the floor in a pool of blood as they swiftly left. Not that they were afraid. But they had lots of places to call on. The address lists had been prepared ahead of time.
Himmler perfected this skill for a lifetime. He would put together files on everything and everybody. The leaders of the Nazi hierarchy, various figures of greater or lesser authority, and regular people.
He would record everything in those files. Who met who, when, where and what they talked. Who had what weakness, and what extramarital affairs; who loved money, who card games, who women. Who was hiding a trace of impurity in their blood, even if that “foreign” blood had trickled in three or even four generations back. With these files, Himmler would weave intrigues, would blackmail, terrorize, and dominate. After Hitler, he was the most dreaded person in the Reich.
Himmler’s great passion, besides extensive police work, was defending the "blood purity" of the Übermensch. He envisioned the S.S. as “a central core radiating racial purity”. For a girl to marry a regular S.S. agent or subofficer, she had to prove her Arian blood-line back to 1800, or back to 1750 if she wanted to become the wife of an S.S. officer. To hasten the growth of the race, he was on the point of introducing polygamy and approved degrading and torturous experiences on the Häftlings in Birkenau with the goal of increasing fertility in German women. Also, under the same pretext of preserving the purity of blood and race, he directly tended to the organization of concentration camps and proper functioning of all death factories.
He initiated and supervised all experiments on living people. Moreover, he liked to be considered the author of certain unprecedented ideas in the field. Watching Rascher’s experiments of freezing humans at Dachau, he suggested they be reanimated by forcing two naked women to press their bodies against those of the frozen victims. To this end he disposed that prisoners from the women’s camp in Rawensbrück be sent to Dachau.
He personally inspected KZ Birkenau and watched through the visor as the deportees were suffocating in the gas chambers; at Mauthausen he assisted at an execution via mass shooting; after he visited the women’s camp at Rawensbrück, executions via shooting in the back of the neck were introduced in this camp as well; daily, at least 50 female prisoners had to be exterminated this way. He maintained direct and permanent contact with the commanders of the main concentration camps.
Years passed, camps multiplied and so did the exterminations. He participated in them directly, watching with the same insensitive “butcher’s heart”, the same fixed eyes, hidden under the lenses of his pince-nez, and sketching the same sweetish smile as he stroke his mustache. He felt strong. He would address the S.S. emphatically, arrogantly: “Most of you know the meaning of 100 bodies laying one next to the other, 500 or 1000 cadavers. We saw this through to the end…it made us strong.”
But in reality, when he reached the end, when the Reich crashed, the strong Ober-executioner ran like a rabbit, he tried to hide like a coward. He shaved his beloved little mustache which he used to stroke so tenderly during executions, he discarded his pince-nez through which he used to watch with fixed led eyes as the choking Häftlings struggled in agony, and he covered one eye with a piece of black cloth; but more than ever he felt bloodstains over his body, and was tortured by the idea those bloodstains may be visible through his black Reichsführer uniform; abruptly, he tore off the uniform and put on civilian pants along with the simple tunic of a Wehrmacht soldier, and headed west amidst a torrent of refugees.
He had lied, cheated and pretended his whole life. He was sure he could do same thing now. He reached a British check point and promptly pulled out a free-passage ticket under the name of Heinrich Hitzinger. He felt quite confident, the ticket was brand new. But that was precisely what gave him away. In that mixed crowd, almost no one had papers. Pending clarification, he was sent to the nearest camp and locked in a holding cell. He tolerated the body-search that followed, but when they told him to open his mouth, he suddenly crushed a vial of cyanide between his teeth and in a few seconds, the Ober-executioner who previously had made the whole of Europe tremble – was stretched out on the floor of the cell, his legs slightly bent, like a poisoned dog.
The number of war criminals who stained their hands, their whole being and conscience with the blood of millions of innocent Jews is quite high. Establishing a hierarchy in this regard is impossible. However, one thing is certain: The “top step of the podium”, as far as baseness and vileness is concerned, is no doubt occupied by Adolf Eichmann, SS lieutenant-colonel, ex-chief of section IV.B.4, who was in charge of finding the “final solution” to the Jewish problem. He dedicated his entire career to assassinations, his only purpose in life was death. He acted with such passion and conviction, that even when the collapse of the Reich drew near, when criminals like Himmler were trying to hide the evidence of their heinous acts, Eichmann would declare emphatically: “I will step smiling into my grave, satisfied to have five million Jews on my conscience”. The staggering size of the assassinations he organized never scared him. He would comfort himself and his collaborators with the words: “A hundred dead is a catastrophe; five million - a statistical figure”.
A typical Nazi, he meticulously prepared to carry out his macabre mission. Around 1937, he traveled to Palestine to study Judaism there. He officially solicited funds to learn Hebrew with a Rabbi.
Installed in Berlin, in the building on Kurfürstenstrasse nr. 116, on the second floor in the mirror room, Eichmann becomes the Reich’s principal expert in Jewish problems, commissioned and entitled to discover, isolate, deport and liquidate all those living in the Reich and in countries occupied by the Reich or under its influence.
Two decades later, locked in a shatterproof glass cage, Eichmann tried to dodge the grave accusations brought against him (the written testimonies presented during the trial weight 330 tones), playing modest and repeating endlessly that he was a small, insignificant man, a simple and humble operative. Back then, however, when he was in charge on Kurfürstenstrasse nr. 116, he liked to show off. He never missed the daily luncheons hosted by Himmler for his main collaborators. While commenting on the quality of the Swiss cheese, the aroma of the fruit or the strength of the cognac, they would also discuss the efficiency of various mass extermination methods. Thus, Eichmann could show off his knowledge and initiative in the matter right in front of Kaltenbruner and Himmler.
When on July 31, 1940 Göring asked Heydrich in writing to come up with a proposal regarding the organization and implementation of “the final solution” to the Jewish problem, it became obvious that the existing special units could not keep up with the rhythm and size of the projected exterminations. Answers to three questions were being feverishly sought: a) what extermination modality should be used? b) where should it take place? c) how should the victims be transported to the place of execution?
Eichman could claim the honor of solving all three. He spared no effort in this regard. He proved great tenacity. Prior to taking a decision, he visited Poland twice. The first time, he witnessed a mass gassing via exhaust emissions. He testified during the trial: “In a chamber which, if I correctly recall, was five times the size of this one, the Jews had to disrobe, and then a truck arrived and stopped in front of the entrance. I opened the door of the truck. The Jews, undressed, had to climb in.” Eichmann followed the truck in his personal car, and as he declared further:” the truck stopped near a long ditch, the doors opened and bodies started rolling in the ditch. They looked still alive, so flexible were their limbs… Next, I saw how a civilian was pulling the gold teeth from their mouths with a pair of pliers…then, depressed, I got back in the car.”
However, this “depression” quickly passed. Already during the fall of the same year he went to Auschwitz to confer with Höss, the commander of this camp, about “how to accomplish the total extermination of Jews in Europe”.
In 1946, Höss declared in writing before he was hanged: “According to Eichmann, the assassination of people in the carbon monoxide gas chamber would have required complicated installations, considering the masses of people to be asphyxiated, and procuring the gas would have been very difficult…Eichmann tried to find a gas with similar properties that was readily available and did not require special installations… The two of us calculated that by flooding the available chambers with suitable gas we could exterminate 800 people at a time.”
Prior to his execution by hanging, locked in his shatterproof glass cage, Eichman willed himself, and succeeded, to listen calmly, indifferently, to the accusations. The facial muscles obeyed him. His hands, however, did not; the fingers kept twitching spasmodically. Yes, his right hand, the one he would raise so determinately to indicate where the greatest extermination camp (Birkenau) should be built and where the crematories should be located, now failed to obey him.
A coward, overwhelmed by the crushing evidence, Eichmann kept repeated shamelessly:” I don’t remember…I don’t know…it didn’t pertain to my competence …I had to execute…I was wearing a uniform, I had to comply...” In reality, when he wore the S.S. uniform he felt almighty.
And he was. The special representative of Heydrich for the “final solution”, he was in fact the official executor of the extermination plan involving the European Jews. As stated by Kurt Becher, Himmler’s representative for the famous transaction “Merchandise for blood”, “Eichmann was not the spiritual father of the plan (to exterminate the Jews), but he was its fanatic executor.”
Upon arriving in Vienna immediately after the Anschluss, he gives a speech: “Now, of course, every Jew knows that his time is up” and then he telegraphs Berlin: “I have them all in my hands”. At Therezienstadt he declares: “The lists of deceased Jews constitute my favorite reading material”. In 1939, upon arriving in Prague, he orders: “The Jews must leave. And quickly”. One day later, the first convoy of Czech Jews was leaving for a concentration camp.
In his fanaticism, Eichmann pursued with the same sadistic scrupulosity the liquidation of certain individuals who were on the verge of being exempted, as well as that large collectives. He did not rest until all Jews identified had been sent to the gas chambers.
“I just organized the transports – Eichmann tried to defend himself during the trial. I admit the fact that I started them. Yes, I also knew where they would stop. But how am I responsible for what happened after the trains stopped at the ramp? The camps were not under my jurisdiction. The camps had nothing to do with the section I commanded. I dealt solely with relocation, space clearing, the rhythmicity of transports, and their timely arrival at the camp gates. After that, beyond the ramp, beyond the gate, others answered and must now answer.”
In reality, Eichmann knew better than anyone else in the S.S. hierarchy what went on beyond the K.Z. gates, on the other side of the barbwires. He personally ordered the commander of Birkenau-Auschwitz to use Zyklon B gas and, from 1942 to 1944, he provided the necessary quantity to asphyxiate millions of deportees.
In fact, Eichmann himself testified in an interview recorded on tape before he was arrested: “I wasn’t just another guy. I was somebody. I knew what I wanted. I had convictions. I followed my conscience. I was a personality. I also influenced others. Rudolf Höss was grateful for my help and guidance. I gave him confidence. I inspired him with the conviction that he was serving a great cause…
I am being accused of contributing to the introduction of modern mass-gassing, but no one takes into account how many S.S. members I saved from degradation, I protected from feeling like common assassins, while also protecting those of weaker character from eternal conscience pangs, inevitable under the circumstances of rudimentary assassination prior to the construction of the Birkenau crematories.
I did not kill. I am being charged with killing a young man. True, I did hit him several times with a bat. Is it my fault that the representatives of this degenerate race have no resistance whatsoever, that they drop dead like flies?”
During the trial, Eichmann whined like a frightened dog: “I was just a tiny wheel in the big mechanism”. The truth is that he himself conceived, perfected and oversaw the impeccable functioning of the extermination mechanism in concentration camps, cold-bloodedly synchronizing the asphyxiation time of a batch in the gas chambers and the absorption capacity of the camps with the size of the deportee convoys and the railway transport possibilities.
In Hungary and the territories occupied by the Horthysts, he applied with frightful harshness his experience as “high official of death” gained in Austria, Czechoslovakia and Poland.
Notwithstanding the hardships of the war, Eichmann obtains from the Horthyst government 110 trains, composed of 40-50 cars each, and in less than two months, between May 14 and July 9, 1944 he sends toward Auschwitz 431,351 Jews. At a certain moment in time, the diagram of deportations is in jeopardy. On June 2, 1944 the British and Americans bomb the main railroad relays. This prevents the departure toward Auschwitz of the transports scheduled for the night between the 2nd and 3rd of June. Among these, transport nr. 5 from the Cluj ghetto, which was supposed to include my family and myself. Eichmann is foaming at the mouth, he doesn’t admit any deregulations. ”If the railways are being bombed, then the convoys should leave on foot”. Desperate efforts are made and, just 3 days later, everything is back to normal. On June 6, the train carrying the 5th transport of deportees from Cluj follows the other “trains of death” racing toward Auschwitz.
Yes, this is the reality. Based on Eichmann’s orders, special units searched Europe far and wide so that no Jew would escape; endless trains set out from every corner of our old continent toward Auschwitz, the gas chambers were activated at his orders, and the fires in the crematories were lit. His signature was the death warrant for tens of thousands of innocent people.
At the trial, the attorney-general was unquestionably right to affirm: “Eichmann is just as guilty as if he himself had hanged, had whipped with his own hand, had driven the victims into the gas chambers, had shot them in the back of the neck and thrown them in the ditches they had been forced to dig a few moments previously.”
The S.S. personnel in the so-called Totenkopfeinheiten (“Skull” units) were a bunch of murderers. They all killed, without exception. Some with hatred, others with indifference. They killed out of sadism, or just for the pleasure of seeing how the blood is gushing out, they killed out of envy, for the sake of revenge, to overcome their previous failures or to advance in the system. Most of them, however, practiced assassination as a profession: inventively, calmly, meticulously. The prototype for this type of character was the S.S Standartenführer Rudolf Höss, the commander of the Birkenau-Auschwitz camp.
On a daily basis, he would assist at several executions, would observe the prisoner convoys crawling from the railway ramp to the gas chambers or would inspect the functioning of the crematories, then he would drop by his quarters located inside the camp perimeter, to see his wife and children. He would only stay for a few minutes. He had much to do. Only late at night, after verifying that all prisoner transports had been triaged according to his directions, that all those unfit for work had been eliminated, that no child below the age of 14 years had survived, did he finally return home to leisurely play with his five little children.
Rudolf Franz Ferdinand Höss was born in 1900 at Baden-Baden. At the age of 15 he volunteered for the front. At 17 he was the youngest sub- officer in the Kaiser’s army. In 1923 he was already in prison. One night, after a monstrous party, he and several comrades killed a young man in a forest. Although sentenced to 10 years in prison, he was pardoned after serving only 6.
With this background, at Himmler’s insistence, he joins the S.S. in 1934. He starts out from the bottom: Blockführer at Dachau. As all S.S. members filled with criminal zeal, he climbs through the ranks with lightening speed. Within 4 years he is second in command at Sachsenhausen and 2 years later, on May 1, 1940 he becomes the commander of the largest extermination camp: Birkenau-Auschwitz. After another 3 years, he is promoted to the concentration camp central.
In the deposition he gave while in prison, Rudolf Höss, who had chosen assassination as his profession, describes calmly, in cold blood, without shame or remorse, with the satisfaction of a job well done, how he automated the extermination process, how he substantially perfected it as compared to the primitive, inefficient procedures he had previously studied at Treblinka. He replaced monoxide gas with Zyklon B, crystallized hydrogen cyanide, by far more potent and efficient; he built gas chambers 10 times as large (at Treblinka there were 10 chambers which wouldn’t even fit 200 people, while each chamber built by him would accommodate 2000 people), he built cremators using a modern, cutting edge technique.
Rudolf Höss doesn’t hesitate to complain in his deposition about how hard it was to be assassin-in-chief at Birkenau: “I was forced to participate at all stages. Day or night, I had to be there when prisoners arrived, when corpses were burned, when teeth were extracted or hair was cut, for hours on end I had to witness these horrors. For hours on end I had to endure the horrible, indescribable smell during the exhumation of cadavers from common graves and their subsequent cremation. I even had to watch, through a visor, the death of those in the gas chambers, since the doctors brought this to my attention. I had to do all this – because I was the one whom they all looked up to, because I had to prove to everyone that I’m not just the one giving orders and establishing what needs to be done, but also that I’m ready to participate in everything myself, just as I demanded from those under my command.”
Despite the “difficulties of the job”, the assassin-in-chief of Birkenau-Auschwitz managed to find comfort in the thought that his family lived carefree, fully contented. ”Yes, my family – he admits – had a good life at Auschwitz. My wife’s and children’s every wish was fulfilled. The children could live free, unconstrained. My wife had her flower paradise… During summertime the kids would bathe in the pool in the garden or sit in the solarium. Their greatest joy was to bathe together with daddy. But he had too little time for such childish joys.”
In exercising his profession of assassin-in-chief of the largest extermination camp, Höss was bothered not only by the lack of family-time. Sometimes he would experience, like a pang in his heart, the premonition that the death system so meticulously perfected wouldn’t keep running forever. It might stop… and along with it, the carefree life of his family.
He writes: “While our children were happily playing, and my wife was overjoyed with the newborn, I often wondered: how long will your joy last?”
Höss regarded the practice of assassination as a regular profession, so much so that upon returning from the courtroom to his cell, he wrote: “I don’t care if the public opinion continues to consider me blood thirsty-monster, a sadist, assassin of millions of human beings, because the crowd cannot have any other image of the commander of Auschwitz. They will never understand that he, too, had a heart and that he wasn’t a bad man.”
As the day of his execution by hanging approached (the sentence had been pronounced on April 2, 1947), S.S.-Standartenführer Rudolf Höss started experiencing feelings of tender self-pity, as reflected in the closing paragraphs of his memoirs, regarding certain difficulties he encountered while practicing his profession as an assassin: “You can believe me that it wasn’t always a pleasure to see mountains of corpses and always feel the smell of burning flesh”.
Birkenau-Auschwitz had hundreds of executioners who killed directly, with their own hands: strangling, shooting in the back of the head, torturing, injecting hearts with phenol, selecting people for the gas chambers and pushing them into the ovens of the crematoriums.
Other hundreds helped with the extermination. And yet other hundreds kept watch, day and night, weapon in hand, so that everything would proceed in perfect order.
I never knew their names. Some of them, extremely few, I learned ulteriorly, after my release, from the published documents.
There was one executioner, however, whose name I knew even back then, over there, at Birkenau. The greatest of them all: S.S. Hauptsturmführer, dr. Joseph Mengele. Lagerarzt. Camp physician.
The Häftlings couldn’t have known all executioners. The victims asphyxiated and burned in crematorium number 1 couldn’t see the faces of the executioners at crematoriums 2, 3 and 4. None of the victims killed in a crematorium knew the executioners at the other crematoriums.
Solely one was seen and known by all 4 million plus Häftlings exterminated at Birkenau-Auschwitz, and by all survivors of this camp: S.S. captain dr. Joseph Mengele.
He was born in Günzburg, in Bavaria, on March 16, 1911.
He was not captured alive.
If he had been captured and tried, then – in my imagination – over a million and a half Häftlings, murdered, asphyxiated, burned at Birkenau-Auschwitz would have risen from their ashes and pointed the finger toward him. Over a million and a half fingers, in a gesture frozen forever, would have attested that he is S.S. Hauptsturmführer dr. Joseph Mengele, the ex-Lagerarzt at Birkenau-Auschwitz.
Puffing heavily, locomotives from occupied cities all over Europe would pull up at the Birkenau railway ramp. Over the course of four years, more than 4 million deportees stepped down from those train cars onto the ramp at the end of life. Approximately two thirds of those newly arrived were exterminated within a few hours. How many and who in particular had to go from the ramp directly to the gas chambers was usually determined – regardless how many trains would arrive during a day or night – by one and the same: S.S. captain dr. Joseph Mengele.
At the selection for the crematorium of those initially left alive, we would stand aligned, stark-naked. A man would walk by, his gloved hand pointing at us, 4 fingers slightly bent, indicating by a barely perceptible movement of the index finger who was supposed to leave the ranks of life and step into the ranks of death, awaited by the gas chambers with wide open doors.
As a rule, that man was S.S. Hauptsturmführer dr. Joseph Mengele.
In his prime, over the age of 30, tall, slender and dignified, S.S. captain dr. Mengele would come to each selection dressed as if he was attending a ceremony: freshly shaved, his uniform impeccably ironed, his boots shined, and wearing fine buckskin gloves. Pedantic, meticulous, never in a hurry, he would lightly hum a tune and with a serene face, almost smiling, he would indicate, barely moving the index of his right hand raised at shoulder level, who should step out of line, out of life. He moved his finger naturally, calmly, detachedly, like a film-director signaling an actor to exit the scene.
Ilse Koch was the name in her identity papers.
Her husband, Karl Otto Koch, commander of the Buchenwald camp, called her Ilse.
The S.S. staff, big and small, in the camp’s command pampered her by calling her Ilse.
The Häftlings called her: bitch.
She became known in all concentration camps and later, in Europe and the entire world as: the bitch of Buchenwald.
Ilse had many whims, as extravagant as they were deadly. And they were all satisfied.
She liked to ride. A group of lovers offered her - as a collective gift – a mare. She requested to have a riding-hall built as soon as possible. The Häftlings worked day and night, constantly hit with bats by the Kapo, with horsewhips by the S.S., so as to keep up the pace. Thirty Häftlings paid with their lives, but the ridding hall, adorned with panels and mirrors, was ready on time. Ilse could start her performances admired by her lovers and accompanied by a quire of Häftlings, who were nudged incessantly with the rifle barrel to sing more vigorously.
Ilse was crazy about gold, jewelry and strong currency. To satisfy this wish, her husband, Karl Otto Koch, commander of the camp, stole so much gold obtained from the prisoners’ teeth, appropriated so many rings torn from the victims’ fingers, and so many earrings ripped from the prisoners’ ears, that even the S.S. – corrupt in all its pores from the lowest Scharführer to the highest Brigadenführer – felt obligated to arrest him, try him and shoot him.
The commander’s wife would often come down among the prisoners. The ordeals they were subjected to, the horror in their eyes, their agonizing screams would excite her, give her vitality and empower her. The only thing that bothered her was the camp’s smell. A scent of blood mixed with cadaver stench. She continued to smell it even after leaving the camp. She would escape it by filling her tub not with water, but with Madera wine. Sometimes with milk. But she enjoyed the Madera wine bath the most. It stimulated her skin.
The greatest delight of the bitch of Buchenwald, however, were and remained trinkets made out of tattooed human skin.
The S.S. staff in the camp’s command, from her lovers to her husband, wanting to please her, developed a veritable manufacture of such objects. They would manufacture powder cases and lampshades, book covers and wallets, knife holsters and women’s gloves, all sorts of souvenirs – all made out of human skin.
The skin stripped off the bodies was curried in shack nr. 2. The trinkets manufactured were offered as gifts to high-ranking S.S. visitors. They constituted the specialty of the camp. The whimsy-invention of Ilse Koch.
For the lamp in her husband’s office, Ilse requested that a large human skin surface be curried, tattooed and turned into a unique lampshade. As support for the lampshade, she indicated a femur. She considered, however, that tattoos on curried skin couldn’t compare to natural tattoos performed on “living skin”. Therefore, in her personal collection, the bitch of Buchenwald would admit solely items made out of skin tattooed “live”. Aware of this fact, the S.S. staff and especially doctor Hoven Wlademar, Ilse’s nr. 1 lover, would carefully analyze the naked bodies of the prisoners newly arrived at Buchenwald. When he discovered “art scenes” or mere inscriptions tattooed on various parts of the body, the cases were presented to Ilse. The ex-typist who used to work for a cigarette factory, now commander’s wife, would decide whether she liked the tattoo or not. Her preference was fatal.
The Häftling was ordered to report to the infirmary. There, Karl Beigs, the bitch of Buchenwald’s favorite Kapo, would inject phenol in his heart. The very same day, the cadaver was taken to the dissection room. The S.S. staff, specialists in the field, would flay the tattooed skin surface and send it for currying, after which it was offered to Ilse.
Wearing riding boots, gloves made out of human skin (she had three pairs and all were made out of human skin tattooed “live”), horsewhip in her right hand, the bitch of Buchenwald felt strong: she was arrogant and defying.
In 1947, before the court – she was judged on American soil – she lost her courage and as any tramp, she cheated to stay alive. Although her husband had long since been shot, although she had been isolated in her cell for more than a year, she got pregnant and, according to American law, could not condemned to death.
After two years she was released.
Subsequently, after the Federal Republic of Germany was formed, she was arrested and tried again. Sentenced to life in prison, she committed suicide in 1967.
The typical representatives of the female Nazi criminals were undoubtedly die Aufseherinen, the female wardens in the concentration camps.
When the ex-prostitutes, vagabonds, housemaids kicked out for stealing, with offspring abandoned in parks, cooks that were professional thieves, saw themselves dressed for the first time in the greyish-green uniform, impeccably ironed, they suddenly felt pulsating in their veins “the pure Arian blood of the Übermensch”, similar to any other S.S. member in the Totenkopfeinheiten, the S.S. “skull” units.
Hysterical and sadistic, arrogant and unrelenting in their cruelty, die Aufseherinen, the female wardens in the concentration camps would mock, torture and beat the prisoners to death. They would scour the camp far and wide, rhythmically tapping their new boots with the horsewhip, their murky eyes reflecting a mixture of hatred, cynicism, contempt and mad lust for revenge. For their dirty past, for all their failures, for all humiliations they had endured, the female detainees in the camp had to pay. They would search out, with their evil eyes, weak and terrorized women, and would pounce on them. Others, to the contrary, driven by savage envy, preferred to trample on women who were still strong and whose beauty had not been entirely erased by the camp. The sadism and ferocity of any male SS member could not equal the cruelty of an Aufseherin, of a female warden, a cruelty generated purely and simply by Schadenfreude, the pure joy at another’s misfortune.
A male S.S. member who beat a Häftling to vent his rage, would eventually tire and calm down in 20 or 40 minutes. The one who hit to punish, upon seeing the victim’s blood gush out, would consider his purpose accomplished. An Aufseherin, on the other hand, a female warden who beat a prisoner, knew no limits. She couldn’t pass by without cussing at the detainees, hitting them, humiliating them, causing them a pain that would aliment the elixir of her life: die Schadenfreude.
The prisoners of Rawensbrück were terrified when among them appeared die Aufseherin, the female warden Dorothea Binz. She would scour the camp, pass in between the shacks and hit anyone she met . She would hit with the bat, with the horsewhip, with the belt. Her eyes would sparkle with Schadenfreude, with this malicious joy, each time she hit. Her eyes were otherwise turbid. There was just one instance when her eyes would shine without hitting. It was when German Shepard dogs, upon her command, would rip apart the body of a detainee.
A survivor, Olga Golovina, who at the age of 21 was a detainee at Rawensbrück, would describe her 39 years later: “I remember Dorothea Binz, the warden, riding through the camp. I can still see her in front of my eyes. A prisoner happens to be in her path. Exhausted, the woman trips and falls. With a superhuman effort, she gets up and walks on.
It sufficed for Dorothea to witness such a scene. She would step hard on the pedals of the bike and knock the unfortunate down. Then she would set the dogs on the victim. They were mean dogs, horrifying, trained to tear humans to shreds until they stopped breathing.”
In her novel “Rawensbrück”, Germaine Tillion describes Dorothea Binz in one of her usual stances, after applying her famous 25, 50 or 75 bat hits. “The victim was lying on the ground half-naked, seemingly unconscious and covered in blood from her ankles to her middle. Binz looked at her, then without a word, climbed with her feet on the victim’s blood-covered calves, placing her heels on one calf and her toes on the other, and started rocking back and forth, shifting her entire body weight successively from her heels to her toes. The prisoner must have been either dead or entirely unconscious, since she did not react in the least. After a few moments, Binz left, both her boots smeared with blood.”
She would amuse herself by making the detainees stand at attention for hours in a row and slapping them. Her favorite diversion, however, was to run into a group of detainees with her bike. As she passed over the fallen bodies, she would roar with laughter.
That devilish laughter, fueled by the elixir of her life, die Schadenfreude, the malicious joy at another’s misfortune, was curtailed only in 1947, when she was hanged.
The horror of the female detainees at Birkenau – whom she used to beat with the horsewhip, hit with her impeccably polished boots and torture ferociously – was Marie Mandel, the chief Aufseherin over all female camps at Birkenau-Auschwitz.
When my mother and brother were triaged for the gas chambers, she stood at Mengele’s right. She assisted, on the death ramp, to all triages of the deportees from Northern Transylvania, a territory under Horthyst occupation.
She was condemned to death in December 1947 by the Supreme Popular Tribunal in Cracovia. I quote from the motivation of the sentience: “She personally chose 80 prisoners for medical experiments. … The accused, along with the doctors and officers would select the victims destined to be gassed during the mass extermination of Hungarian Jews. … When the transport of Russian women from Vitebks arrived, she tore babies from their mothers’ arms and threw them in trucks like a bunch of rocks. Of her own accord, the accused sent pregnant women to die in the gas chambers or be killed by phenol injections in their heart. … In December 1942, in the women’s camp at Birkenau, she carried out the disinfection of the prisoners during a terrible frost. The bath lasted from morning to 4 P.M. The accused walked, horsewhip in hand, among the naked and starving prisoners, forced to stay outside in the dreadful frost for hours in a row. At least one quarter of these frozen and malnourished women had to be carried away by truck. Most of them died. … The accused ordered at Birkenau that new-born babies be burned in the ovens, and infants be taken from their mothers and killed.“
Not even the most complete death sentencing, or the sum of all sentencings ever pronounced, could exhaust the endless list of atrocities committed by the typical representatives of the female Nazi criminals: die Aufseherinen, the female wardens of the concentration camps.
The ideas, plans, and actions of the Nazis were merciless and terribly savage. They materialized in an endless wave of crimes. Among them, the Nazi theory of racism was the bloodiest, the most savage. It fueled and amplified all other criminal ideas, plans and actions.
Der Rassismus, the Nazi racism, taught the following:
· The pure Nordic Arian blood is primordial
· The German race is a superior race, a race of masters, the only one capable of generating Übermenschen, superhumans.
· The purpose of this race is to impose its will, its laws upon the Untermenschen, the subhumans, the degenerates belonging to mixed, inferior races.
Being told they are the prototype of the superior race, destined to rule Europe, the Nazis, hundreds and thousands of divisions strong, started to trample on, destroy and annihilate all that was pure, noble and great, but belonged to other nations declared inferior.
The Nazis murdered, destroyed and burned all in their path, roaring:
“May the whole world crumble,
To hell with it, who cares?
We march ahead as masters,
Today of Germany,
Tomorrow of the world.”
Der Rassismus, the racism propagated by the Nazis encouraged every German – by virtue of being an Übermensch, a superhuman, and having the “pure blood of a superior race” running through his veins – to command without hesitation and kill in cold blood, without scruples. “We want, declared Hitler, to select a class of new masters, strangers to the doctrine of mercy, aware of the fact that – by virtue of belonging to a superior race – they are entitled to rule, and who will know to establish and maintain without hesitation their domination over the masses.”
In this superior class of new masters, the “cream of the crop” was none other but the S.S.. Clutching the machinegun in one hand and the whip in the other, the S.S. officers no doubt felt like Übermenschen, superhumans, and indeed their hand did not tremble on the trigger, and as Himmler requested of them, they were “unaffected by either waves of blood, or mounds of bodies”. The theory of Nazi racism couldn’t do without such professional killerrs, since it implied not only the protection and multiplication by any means of the superior race, the German Übermensch, but also the merciless mass extermination of those belonging to an inferior race. Hitler unequivocally explained: “After centuries of lamentation regarding the protection of the poor and humble, it is time to protect the strong against those who are inferior. One of the principal tasks of the German state activity for all times will be to prevent the multiplication of the Slavic race by any means available. Natural instinct orders all living beings not only conquer their enemies, but also to destroy them. In times past, one of the prerogatives of the winner was to destroy entire tribes and nations.”
Himmler formulated the above in a much simpler and more concise manner, to clarify the issue for any S.S. member: ”Let’s understand each other: the following decades will not focus on the external policy that Germany should or shouldn’t lead: they will focus on the extermination of racially inferior people throughout the world.”
Yes, Himmler thought that is was sufficient for any S.S. member to understand that he belongs to a superior race and therefore must kill, without mercy, all those belonging to an inferior race.
Speaking in front of the S.S. generals, Heinrich Himmler attempted to be more persuasive, showing even some promise as a “great orator”: How do the Russians fare? How do the Czechs fare? I don’t care one bit. It doesn’t matter to me if other nations prosper or starve to death: what matters is that we have slaves for our own crops. What do I care if ten thousand Russian women died of exhaustion while digging an antitank trench? All I care about is that the trench be ready on time, for the benefit of Germany.”
Propagating der Rassismus, the racist doctrine, the leaders in Berlin were promoting above all the contempt toward nations labeled as inferior, and calling for their extermination as a “sine qua non” condition for the affirmation of the superior race, the German Übermensch.
On October 2, 1940 Hitler held a counsel. The discussions were recorded by Borman himself. The documents indicate: “There mustn’t exist any Polish masters: wherever they are found, they must be destroyed, however cruel this may seem…”. “All Polish intellectuals must be destroyed. This may seem cruel, but the law of life demands it…”. “…Priests will be paid by us, and in return will preach what we tell them. If we find a priest doing differently, we will be unforgiving.” The priest’s role is to ensure that the Poles remain calm, to infatuate and besot them. This is in our interest as well….”
The Reich’s commissary for the Ukraine, Erich Koch, declared in a public speech held in Kiev: “We are a nation of masters, which means that the most insignificant German worker is racially and biologically a thousandfold more valuable than the population here.”
Der Rassismus, Nazi racism, proved to be most unforgiving, most ferocious toward Jews. Slavic nations were supposed to be severely decimated, whereas the Jews had to be wiped out to the last man. While Slavic nations were decimated through oppression and starvation, arbitrarily and abusively, the Jews were exterminated systematically and methodically, based on racial legislation that was officially adopted and disseminated, as part of a concrete extermination plan targeting 11 million people, i.e., all the Jews of Europe. As far as the Slavic people were concerned, during the initial stage the Nazi planned to destroy only a fraction. In one of his speeches, Himmler projected starting with a lot of 30 million Slavic people.
Nowhere in the great Reich was der Rassismus, Nazi racism, more at home than in the concentration camps. Over there, in the vicinity of the barbwire fences, gas chambers and crematoriums, the S.S. members really felt they were like Übermensch-s, as opposed to the thousands and millions of Häftlings who were mere Untermensch-s , sub-humans, which could be mocked, beaten, tortured, shot, hanged, gassed or simply “crushed under one’s boots like worms”.
The monstrous experiments on living people performed in the concentration camps were also justified by der Rassismus, racism. Called to answer for his crimes in front of the court, Doctor Kurt Hessemeyer declared that he made no difference between” lab animals and Jewish children. At that time, it was held that the detainess in the concentration camps have no value as humans.”
At Nürnberg, during his trial, Bach Zelewsky was asked: ”Do you consider that Himmler’s speech, in which he asked for the extermination of 30 million Slavs reflected his own convictions or is it, in your opinion, just an expression of the national-socialist ideology?”
Bach Zelewsky: “Today I am convinced that is was a logical consequence of our ideology. When you preach for years, for dozens of years, that the Slavs are an inferior race, that the Jews are not even people, of course you end up with such an explosion.”
In the concentration camps, the S.S. staff gathered all ordeals ever experienced by man throughout time, and hurled them at the detainees, crushing their bodies and souls. Being amplified to the maximum, they couldn’t be hierarchized. All were unbearable.
And yet, one of them stood out. It’s name: Hunger.
At Birkenau-Auschwitz, in the shadow of the crematoriums, every ordeal was taken to its ultimate limit: thirst, beatings, torture and humiliation alike.
But regardless how great the thirst, it wasn’t permanent. Whenever it rained, one could quench it. Whereas hunger, never. From the moment you set foot in the camp, it never stopped torturing you: days, weeks, months, years. As long as you were alive.
The beatings, in all concentration camps, were awful. There was, however, a limit beyond which the prisoner would pass out and cease feeling the bite of the whip or the kick of the boots. The same happened during tortures. Der Hunger, hunger, however, was permanent. Nothing could stop it, not even for a second.
Humiliation – carried beyond any imaginable limit by the S.S. staff – was hard, almost impossible to bear. Most of those who killed themselves were driven to the high-voltage barbwire by the infinite humiliations they could no longer endure.
But at night, while asleep, we would forget humiliation, and some would dream they were once again free. Hunger, however, did not cease even at night. Exhausted, devoid of all strength, we would collapse on the bare cement and fall asleep at once. While asleep we would forget the crematoriums, the S.S. staff, the wounds incurred during daytime. Hunger, however, hurt so bad we would wake up crying in the middle of the night.
We were possessed by a protracted, steady, total, dreadful and ferocious hunger. A hunger that annihilated your reason, set you apart from humankind and turned you into a beast. At Birkenau-Auschwitz and other concentration camps there were thousands, tens of thousands of Häftlings who hadn’t eaten even once to their heart’s desire in a year, two years, three years, and some even in four or five years.
Whenever a convoy of Häftlings, passing by the living quarters of the S.S., saw potato peels lying in the garbage, they would storm the place oblivious to any danger. And, however savagely the Kapo’s bat descended over the entangled bodies, order could not be reestablished until they had finished searching the entire garbage mound.
I saw many prisoners who did not yield to the S.S. tactics, resisted all blows and maintained their verticality, to finally be subdued by the S.S. through nothing else but hunger. Yes, there were Häftlings who witnessed the execution of their entire family and yet continued to proudly resist Nazism; Häftlings subjected to the most horrible tortures, who kept their dignity, did not give in, did not betray – but who eventually, after years of animalic and torturous hunger, dehumanized, stooped as low as stealing the only potato from the hand of the sick or moribund.
Second to Zyklon B, used in the gas chambers of Birkenau-Auschwitz, der Hunger, hunger, caused the highest number of casualties among the Häftlings. They died of hunger by the dozens, by the hundreds, by the thousands in all concentration camps. From their inauguration to their collapse. And another day and night thereafter…
At Landsberg, on the morning of April 27, realizing that the watch-towers were empty, the detainees charged the storage depot of the S.S. They started eating with ferocious greed. They had no patience to chew. They swallowed giant chunks of bread, margarine, hot dogs and jam. Then they found the canned food. They busted the cans open with an axe and gulped down the contents. Finally, they found the meat. They fried it by the fire of the burning barracks (which the S.S. had blown up before leaving the camp). The feast continued until nightfall. As the darkness set in, the ex-detainees started to be tortured by violent, unbearable cramps. Doubled over in pain, they were bawling helplessly. Some of them died before the break of dawn, prior to the arrival of the Red Cross.
Der Hunger, the terrible hunger in the concentration camps, took its toll of victims another day and night after the liberation.
One thousand fifty two Häftlings, youngsters between the ages of 14 and 20, are lined up in rows of five, on the plateau in front of barrack nr. 21 from camp E. We are stark-naked, standing to attention. Before us, S.S. captain doctor Mengele and his suite. Die Selektion, the selection for the crematoriums, begins.
Our memories, thoughts, wishes – all have disappeared. Everything that has to do with life has disappeared. All that remains is the fear of death.
I am the skinniest and shortest in my row. I’m trembling not only for myself, but for the other four as well. If our row is selected, they will perish because of me. Had they taken another one, stronger and a little bit taller, they would be out of danger. I didn’t want to stay with them. I had tried to make my way toward the ones as skinny and weak as I was. But they didn’t let me. They caught me by the hand and pulled me back in their row. The one with the broadest shoulders positioned himself in front of me. He is the shield for my body, which is all skin and bones. Mengele casts a very superficial look upon us. As a rule, if the first one in the row is sturdy, the whole row escapes. But one thing terrifies me. I am way too short. This is easily detectable.
They have ordered Stillstand!, Snap to attention! Any movement is punished by death. I’ve got nothing to lose. My body is frozen still, but with my toes I try to gather sand under my soles. To make myself taller….even by a hair….I have to look taller…or else I’m lost….and I’ll be dragging the other four with me, to death. My very last friends…
Mengele has changed his mind. He won’t be passing in front of the lines. He has stopped in the middle of the platform and has ordered us to march before him, naked, one by one.
At Mengele’s right and left, the S.S. soldiers have formed a line. Five of them are outside this line. They are watching the index finger of Mengele’s right hand. A small twitch indicates that the one passing before him at that moment is selected. The five S.S. soldiers rush toward him, grab him and throw him behind the line. His fate is sealed.
My chances have been shattered. They’ve ceased to exist! Still, I’m determined not to give up. I will step on my tiptoes. I’ll gather my last ounces of energy and float before him like a ballerina. It’s all about lifting up. Even just a bit, but I must lift up. If I can’t make myself taller, even just a bit, then I’m lost… I’m dead. But how will I manage to walk on my tiptoes, when I can barely keep myself upright? We have been waiting for the selection committee, in standing position, stark-naked, for almost three hours. I’m shaking uncontrollably. With weariness? With fear? Even I can’t tell. Oblivious to everything, I advance toward Mengele. In front of me, two brothers. The first one is Avram. Tall and well-built, he walks stiffly before Mengele. He has escaped. Only now does terror invade him. He holds his breath. He strains his hearing. He wants to discern his brother’s step behind him. He wants to turn around. He doesn’t dare. At that moment he shudders. Thousands of thuds pierce his tympans. It’s the clatter of the five S.S. soldiers rushing to grab his brother.
Avram pivots around and wants to leap toward those behind the S.S. line. He can’t let his little brother walk to his death alone. This one however grasps Avram’s intention and roars with all his might:
- Nooo! Stay there! You have to live! At least one in our family must survive.
Mengele , surprised by the Häftling’s boldness, turns to one of the S.S. members and orders briefly:
- Schlag ihn tot! Kill him!
At that moment I pass before him. I take three more steps and collapse. Due to stress? Joy? Exhaustion? Who can tell? The ones behind me grab me and drag me along to the barrack.
I have escaped!
For how long? Until the next selection. Which will be the day after tomorrow or even tomorrow. Or maybe in a few hours, at dusk. Right after the Appell (the roll call).
The day after tomorrow, tomorrow or in a few hours, we will again be aligned in rows of five, standing at attention, stark-naked. Again, Mengele and his suite will appear in front of the lines.
Again, our memories, thoughts and wishes will disappear. All that is life will disappear. Only the fear of death will remain.
The desperate wails and agonizing screams of the thousands of innocent people, deported and imprisoned in Nazi concentration camps, their cries, curses and shrieks all merged into a single and constant roar of agony and despair, of outrage and helplessness. And yet, amidst this single and uninterrupted roar resounded, throughout the fascist night, a group of distinct, heartrending screams, of gregarious intensity…
At Dachau, it was the detainees submerged in wooden tubs filled with ice and freezing water, and kept there until they froze to death, or more precisely, until their heart stopped beating.
At Buchenwald, it was the Häftlings in barrack nr. 46 – tied with chains to their chairs – as the boxes affixed with rubber straps to their inner thighs were opened by a Kapo and thousands of lice infected with typhus invaded their bodies.
At Birkenau, it was the female detainees whose ovaries were removed without anesthesia, the men who were irradiated in view of becoming sterile, the pairs of twins forced with brutality to mate.
At Rawensbrück, it was the female prisoners who had fragments of bones extracted in view of transplantation; they were brought straight from work, tied down to the table and the surgical procedure would begin without even removing their sabots.
At Dachau, at Buchenwald, at Auschwitz, at Rawensbrück…, the S.S. physicians conducted Experimente an lebendingen Menschen, experiments on living people, and the victims were screaming, roaring with gregarious intensity.
They tested the resistance of the human body to low pressure, cold, poisons, bullets shot from various angles, into different parts of the body.
They experimented with typhus, with sexual hormones, with malaria, with typhoid fever, with cholera, with tuberculosis, with diphtheria.
They experimented with the sterilization of women, the castration of men, the procreation of twins.
They practiced the transplant of bones, the infection of open wounds with the bacilli of gas gangrene or tetanus, the infliction of phosphorus burns.
The beginnings of experimentation an lebendingen Menschen were timid. Doctor Rascher, one of the initiators, addressing S.S. Reichsführer Himmler on May 15, 1941 and explaining the “lack of human material” since “these experiments are very dangerous and nobody will subject themselves to this voluntarily”, only dared to request 2-3 people. “These experiments, during which the persons … may of course die – Rascher pointed out further – will be carried out under my supervision”. Within just 7 days, Himmler’s approval arrived: ”…it will be my pleasure to put the detainees at your disposal…”
This was in the beginning. Ulteriorly, Himmler would only approve the type of experiments, and the camp commanders would make the detainees available to the physicians by the dozens, by the hundreds, by the thousands.
The screams and roars of the victims, resounding with gregarious intensity, would cause the entire camp to freeze. This stillness seemed to bother the S.S. physicians, since it had the potential of evolving into an “uncontrolled collective gesture”. It wasn’t by chance that doctor Rascher wrote to his “highly esteemed Reichsführer” asking him to authorize the continuation of the Dachau experiments, involving the freezing of living people, at Auschwitz. The S.S. physician nostalgically argues that “of all similar experimental centers, Auschwitz is more suitable than Dachau from every point of view”. Firstly, because over there, i.e., at Auschwitz, it was colder, and given its dimensions, the screams of the moribund would be much attenuated, if not entirely absorbed by the incomparably larger spaces, because, Rascher admits, “…the subjects of the experiments brüllen, bawl, as they freeze.”
The doctors and college professors of the 3rd Reich performed Experimente an lebendingen Menschen, experiments on living people, without even a tremor of their hand. Or of their conscience. Complacently, they chose to believe that the detainees in concentration camps are not human, but rather subhuman, some sort of animals, beings devoid of any value.
Doctor Kurt Heissmeyer declared at the trial: “It was clear to me that utilizing the bacillus culture we possessed on humans could not be justified, given the probable consequences. I considered that in the concentration camp I could justify such an activity, since, according to my national-socialist attitude at the time, I, too, considered the detainees of the camp to be second-grade people.
Back then, my point of view was that the detainees in the concentration camp had no value as humans.”
Guided by such concepts, the Nazi physicians and college professors tortured and assassinated the detainees in cold blood, with brutality and unimaginable cruelty.
Doctor Heissmayer, “preoccupied” with combating tuberculosis, received at Birkenau on November 27, 1944, a group of 20 children between 5 and 12 years old. Upon their arrival in KZ Neuengamme, the children were entirely healthy. They were bright, normal, beautiful children, as the witnesses would later testify at the trial. The experiments started right away. The children received small incisions under their arms and on their chest, through which tuberculosis bacilli were introduced. Before the end of the war, in order to remove all traces of the experiments, the 20 children were hanged.
Professor Karl Gebhardt of the S.S. led experiments involving the treatment of gas burns induced by fire weapons. To recreate the “conditions existing on the front” the Häftlings selected as guinea-pigs would be fired upon from all possible angles, targeting all possible body parts. Professor Gebhardt’s team was also in charge of healing artificially induced fractures. Perfectly healthy detainees were brought to the surgical suite and placed on the table. Using a hammer, their legs would be crushed or their arms broken. The preferred subjects were very young girls, high-school or college students.
Many prisoners had various bones removed in view of transplants intended for those wounded on the front. After the removal of the desired bones, the Häftlings were killed.
Especially relevant for the documentation of the “Experimente an lebendigen Menschen”, experiments on living people, are the testimonies and confessions obtained during the trials following the liberation.
Prosecutor: Baumkötter, do you know what the experiments with phlegmons entailed?
Baumkötter: … Incisions were made on the thighs of the selected detainees, and these incisions were filled with old rags and dirty straw. This provoked the desired septicemia, during the course of which many people died.
Prosecutor: Were experiments performed with potassium cyanide?
Baumkötter: Yes! This happened at the end of 1944 or the beginning of 1945, upon the arrival in our camp of S.S. Standartenführer Nolling, the health inspector for the concentration camps. A prisoner had been selected ahead of time for a special experiment. I had to accompany the health inspector to the crematorium. Underway, Nolling pulled from his cigarette case a small vial of 1 cm; the vial was inserted in the prisoner’s mouth, and this one had to crush it between his teeth.
Prosecutor: How long thereafter did death occur?
Baumkötter: We observed that death occurred after only 15 seconds.
Regarding the experiments with sexual hormones, here is a dialogue which took place at Nürnberg:
M. Dubost: Always lethal? Every experience, therefore, must be regarded as a murder…
Balachowky: In block 50, I saw photographs of phosphorus burns inflicted in block 46. You didn’t have to be a specialist to imagine the agony of these people, whose flesh was burned to the bone. After 3 months, when the experiments ended, all survivors were liquidated.
The S.S. killed without hesitation. They had no scruples in choosing their methods, either. They killed tirelessly, with utter disregard for the consequences. They feared nothing and no one. Yet when they referred to their activity as assassins, they became pedantic and carefully chose their words, showing a predilection for euphemisms.
They never mentioned deportations, but discreetly and pedantically used words such as “moving”, “relocation”, ”evacuation”, and very rarely “evictions toward the East”.
The mass extermination of Jews had started to function like clock work, in veritable factories of death. Birkenau-Auschwitz alone, with its four gigantic buildings – each featuring a huge gas chamber (which could fit 2,000 people per cycle) and 15 furnaces (built on the upper level) – could turn into ashes 12,000 people in 24 hours.
On June 6, when my I arrived at Auschwitz with my entire family, all four crematoriums were working day and night.
Still, the Nazis continued to avoid the terms “extermination and liquidation” but talked discreetly and pedantically about “special actions”, “special treatment”, or “special housing”.
The Nazis never made a secret of their intention to liquidate the Jews of Europe down to the last man, woman and child. However, they avoided the term “total extermination of the Jews”, and euphemistically spoke about “the final solution”, or about “definitively resolving the Jewish problem”.
Gesonderte Unterbringung, special housing, was provided on January 21, 1943 to 1,582 people, among which 602 men and 980 women and children; on the January 24, 1943 – to 1,801 people, among which 623 men and 1,178 women and children; on the January 27, 1943 – to 709 people, among which 197 men and 512 women and children.
Gesonderte Unterbringung, special housing was provided to men because of physical weakness, and to women mostly because they were accompanied by children.
I spent almost 4 months in camp “E” – Birkenau and watched the daily convoys heading to the gas chambers to receive Sonderbehandlung, special treatment, or Gesonderte Unterbringung, special housing. For almost 4 months, I watched the smoke irrupting from the furnaces of the crematoriums after each convoy, day and night. The particles of fine ash blown by the wind got into my eyes, my ears, my mouth. And yet, even now, after 63 years, I still shiver recalling the cynicism, the sadism demonstrated by the S.S. when they specified in an official correspondence clearly, unequivocally, as the reason for the extermination via gassing of thousands of women: “because they had children”. Yes, my mother received Sonderbehandlung, extermination through gassing, because she had three children by her side – my younger brothers.
Among all euphemisms, the most commonly used was Sonderbehandlung (SB), special treatment. “To eliminate any possibility of a misunderstanding” Reinhardt Heydrich points out as early as September 29 in a circular addressed to “all government offices and state police offices”: “…we shall distinguish between those who can be liquidated by the ordinary means employed so far, and those who must be subjected to a special treatment, Sonderbehandlung. In the latter case we are dealing with circumstances which – due to their reprovable or dangerous nature, or their propagandistic effect – must be removed by a brutal procedure, i.e., via execution, regardless of the person.”
A circular order issued by Heinrich Himmler on February 20, 1942 specifies at point 5: “Die Sonderbehandlung, the special treatment is carried out by hanging…”
As the Nazis proceed to implement the mass extermination of the Jews, especially after perfecting the extermination in gas chambers, the liquidation of entire transports of Jews, or the extermination of large masses of people on the spot, such actions are invariably referred to as Sonderbehandlung, special treatment.
In the report “about the events in the Soviet Union nr. 124” from October 25, 1941 it is shown on page 6 that: “Given the extreme risk of epidemics, the liquidation of the Jews in the ghetto of Vitebsk, down to the last person, has commenced on October 8, 1941. The number of Jews that will be subjected to Sonderbehandlung, special treatment, is approximately 3,000.”
On May 1, 1942 the governor and Gauleiter of the Wathland district, Arthur Greiser, reported to Himmler: “The action of Sonderbehandlung, special treatment, of 100,000 Jews on the territory of my district, approved by you… will be completed within the next 2-3 months.
At Birkenau-Auschwitz, Sonderbehandlung, special treatment – regardless whether it referred to a detainee, a barrack or an entire transport – was equivalent to: extermination by gassing. O. Kraus and E. Kulka recall: “When block nr. 7 filled up with sick people – which happened every 2-3 weeks, and sometimes every week – the order was issued to form the so-called transport for Sonderbehandlung, special treatment.”
The S.S. officer in charge of the infirmary (Sanitätsdienstgehilfe = S.D.G.) or sometimes even the S.S. physician would establish the number of those who would undergo special treatment. The detainees holding functions in the infirmary had to deliver the respective number of patients within a short period of time.
Sometimes the expression Sonderbehandlung, special treatment, was replaced with an even more cynical one: Gesonderte Unterbringung, special housing. The Nazi official documents show that both expressions referred to the same thing: asphyxiation in the modern gas chambers of Birkenau.
Of all Nazi concentration camps, the most terrible one was KZ – Birkenau. Of the dozens of camps which composed Birkenau, in 1944, hell was represented by camp E, also called Zigeunerlager, the Gypsy camp.
Of the 200,000 Gypsies who fell victim to Nazism, 22,696 were taken to Birkenau-Auschwitz, to camp E, hence the name Zigeunerlagar. In 1944, when the Jews deported from Hungary arrived in camp E, the so-called Zigeunerlagar, only a few thousand Gypsies still survived. We, the ones deported from the northern part of Transylvania under Horthyst regime, were housed in the barracks on the left side of the central alley which separated the camp in two. The Roma – in the barracks on the other side.
They lived with their families and controlled the alley. We were afraid to walk beyond the platforms of our barracks. Newly arrived, we had yet to get our bearings. And back then, at the beginning of that summer, all Blockälteste and Vertreter-s, chiefs and almighty gods over our barracks, were Roma. Not just any Roma, but selected from amongst the toughest and most sadistic.
On a starry night that torrid summer of 1944, Blocksperre was ordered, the closing of the barracks. It was 10 o’clock at night. Then, until dawn, the camp resounded with the droning of vans and barking of German Shepard dogs, with the yells of the S.S. and the bawls of the Roma, with their shrieks and curses.
That endless night, under the starry sky, the Roma in camp E at Birkenau-Auschwitz were gassed and burned down to the very last. Children born in the camp, young Gypsy women who still dreamed of being kidnapped by their men and carried on stallions fast as lightning through the woods of Bavaria, on hidden paths known only to them – they were all burned to ashes, without exception: Blockälteste and Vertreter-s, the chiefs and almighty gods of our barracks, together with Gypsy fortunetellers, who read fortunes in their cards and cowries, foretelling up to the last moment they would live to rebuild their tribe or caravan, that golden necklaces will bounce again on their women’s breasts, unleashed in devilish dances for all uncelebrated weddings and all unbaptized children, from that moment henceforth when, on the plains of Saxony, in the villages of Turing, outside the cities of Belgium or on the paved roads of Holland, their wagons, caravans and houses were surrounded by S.S. soldiers, holding machineguns ready to fire, and they were thrown into trucks and deported.
Yes, the descendents of the famous Roma who smuggled Lyon silks, whose songs and dances enchanted the lords of the Rhine Valley for centuries, people who couldn’t live without being free, free to roam the villages and cities, the roads, mountains and fields, whenever and however they pleased, free to love and dispense justice according to their customs, having as witness just the moon and stars – all of them, down to the very last one, were taken straight to the gas chambers that night.
At the break of dawn, we rushed to the edge of the platforms between our barracks – we still didn’t dare to venture onto the alley in the center – and looked toward the barracks on the other side. There was no movement there. Just a horrifying emptiness. The barracks, with their large, wide open doors, looked like giant tombs, empty and profaned. Above us, the sky was obliterated by a dense layer of sticky, bluish-black smoke Every once in a while, giant tongues of fire, spewing out of the crematorium furnace, shot across the thick layer of smoke, collided with each other and disappeared like falling stars.
That night, no one had heard any whistling of locomotives. But the Roma were gone. There was no movement on their side of the camp. Just the dense layer of sticky, bluish-black smoke, descending lower and lower over the deserted barracks with their doors wide open, like giant empty tombs…
In camp E there were no more Gypsies. Not even one survived. But camp E continued to be called Zigeunerlagar, the Gypsy camp.
This year, a statue is being erected in ex-camp E in honor and memory of the Roma who died at Birkenau-Auschwitz, in the Holocaust.
The decades pass implacably and with them, the number of survivors of the Great Tragedy named Holocaust inevitably diminishes, nearing the end. At the same time we have to admit, no matter how painful the thought, that the number of negationists in certain areas is on the rise, and some of them are becoming more aggressive.
They are endlessly repeating the same ideas, advancing the same statements, emitting utterly unfounded theses, without any even remotely credible argumentation, conjuring up a “status quo” which is downright absurd.
Without a doubt, one of the most intensely propagated theses – stubbornly upheld by all negationists – refers to the “inexistence of the gas chambers”.
In a distinct chapter of his book, “Holocaust” – translated, published and diffused in Romania 5 years ago in an abbreviated form – Jürgen Graf strives to convince his audience that he has discovered the “Achilles heel” of the thesis regarding the existence of gas chambers, stating that no one so far has been capable to present “even the faintest image of these gas chambers!”
After enumerating a list of titles by well-known authors, he concludes: ”After studying in detail the above-mentioned books, even if we were to read ten, twenty, fifty or one hundred other monumental operas about the Holocaust, we will never find a technical description of the gas chambers.”
The above affirmations by Jürgen Graf are simply lies, similar to all other remarks of the negationists, stated bombastically and arrogantly, but having nothing in common with reality or the truth.
There are dozens, hundreds, thousands of writings on the topic. Based on these, one can accurately reconstruct the entire journey, from the first vans loaded with innocents who were gassed while underway to the pit or ditch destined to be their grave, using exhaust emissions introduced through an ordinary pipe inside the car – to the ultramodern gas chambers at Birkenau-Auschwitz. The beginnings were quickly deemed to be primitive.
The method was riddled with inconveniences. The drivers, notwithstanding their S.S. background, would loose their focus as they heard the victims struggle behind them, and would fail to apply constant pressure to the gas pedal. At the same time, the screams and writhing of the asphyxiating victims had undesired psychological effects on the S.S. teams in charge of throwing the bodies into common graves.
The report forwarded by S.S. Untersturmführer Becker to his superiors on May 16, 1942 is significant in this regard: “[…] the gas poisoning wasn’t always properly performed. To expedite the operation, the driver would press the accelerator to the floor: due to this, the executed persons would choke to death, rather than drift to sleep as specified in the instructions. The indications I have given regarding the proper fixation of the gas pedal resulted in faster death times and the detainees fall asleep peacefully. There were no more contorted faces or excrements, as previously observed. […] To protect people from these harmful consequences, I would request that the proper indications be given.”
The first attempt at modernization occurred at Treblinka. Here, they commenced building gas chambers equipped with pipes, which would capture the exhaust generated by the engines of transport vehicles or old tanks.
When Rudolf Höss, the commander of Birkenau-Auschwitz, was sent to Treblinka in the summer of 1942 to study the process of extermination via gassing, he was deeply disappointed by the primitivism of the method presented to him. As he himself confessed prior to being hanged, the rooms were small, the engines frequently broke down, the quotas were not met, the rhythm was slow. In 6 months just 80,000 people!
Upon returning home, to Birkenau-Auschwitz, he got to work. Assisted by specialists – doctors, chemists, constructors, all killers by profession – he built gas chambers of high capacity. “He (the commander at Treblinka) declared Höss – used monoxide in the gas chambers, but I didn’t think his methods were efficient enough. Therefore, when I built the extermination system at Auschwitz-Birkenau, I used Zyklon B, a crystallized cyanohydrin compound, which we introduced in the death chamber through a tiny orifice. Depending on weather conditions, people would die within 3 to 15 minutes. We knew they were dead when the screaming subsided. As a rule, we would wait another half hour before opening the doors and removing the corpses. Once the bodies outside, our special detachments removed the rings from their fingers and the dental gold from their mouths. Eine andere Verbesserung, another improvement, compared to Treblinka was achieved by building gas chambers that could fit 2,000 people per cycle, whereas the 10 gas chambers at Treblinka only fit 200 people.”
It’s downright ridiculous to claim that there is no proof, no document, no description of the gas chambers to enable us to imagine how these looked and what took place inside.
In the archive of the Auschwitz Museum, any visitor can see even the construction blueprints of each of the four crematoriums, including the signatures of those who designed them. The correspondence between the commander of Auschwitz and the director of the construction company is also available.
When the negationists realized that simply denying the physical existence of the crematoriums and gas chambers not only doesn’t convince, but is almost entirely ignored, they started using different words to say the same thing.
Dissimulating that they only want the facts, they raise the same questions in different words, all the while stressing their preoccupation with finding out the truth.
“How come there are no documents, no sketches, no images – they ask without even a quiver in their voice – to suggest how the inside of a gas chamber looked, what installations it featured, how it functioned?
What took place inside and how is it possible that groups of 2,000 people entered dressed in their travel clothes, some even carrying small luggage items – most families were composed of 3 and even 4 generations – and within one hour they were all turned to smoke and ashes?”
I could respond using the most authorized description, i.e., the testimony of Rudolf Höss, the commander of the camp, who attended to the construction of the entire complex of mass extermination through gassing and cremation at Birkenau, who ensured the proper functioning of all installations, who ordered and oversaw the entire process – from the disembarking of the deportees (90% Jews) from the freight-cars, up to the transformation of their vast majority, from the very first day they arrived, into smoke and ashes.
I won’t quote Rudolf Höss, since according to Jürgen Graf and almost all negationists, the admissions of crimes by the Nazi leaders at Nürnberg were elicited by torture.
I will reproduce as concisely as possible the description of the gas chambers and the procedure employed in the spring and summer of 1944, as presented by doctor Nyiszli Miklos (deported from Oradea with his entire family), in the book he published less than one year after his return home: “I was a forensic examiner for doctor Mengele in the Birkenau-Auschwitz crematorium.” He remained at Birkenau-Auschwitz until the 18th of January 1945, when the entire camp was evacuated.
During all this time, he stayed with the Sonderkommando in one of the crematorium buildings and had a free pass for all four crematoriums.
The book I’m referring to was accepted as evidence by the Tribunal of Nürnberg. Here is, in summary, the chapter consecrated to the gas chambers.
The first selection, performed on the arrival ramp immediately upon descending from the train, is quite brief. The convoy on the left, composed of mothers with children under the age of 14, elderly and sick people are directed straight toward one of the four crematoriums. The gates open and approximately 2,000 persons – out of 3,000 that usually arrive with a transport of 50 train cars – enter the premises of the crematorium.
Reaching the front of the building, the convoy descends 10-15 concrete steps towards a huge hall in the basement. Above the door a sign announces in German, French, Greek and Hungarian: “Bath and disinfection”. Along the center of the hall, concrete poles succeed each other at equal distances. Around these poles and against the lateral walls, there are wooden benches, and above them, coat racks.
What follows after this point no one knows, because those who do know and could tell what they’ve been through after walking the death path, i.e., the 300 meters from the ramp to here, are never coming back among the living. Thus, the convoy on the left is taken directly to the crematorium and not in a special camp for the old, sick and the children, where detainees incapable of labor look after the little ones, as the S.S. sentinels tell the worried people in the convoy on the right.
The deportees walk slowly, tiredly. Children hang on sleepily to their mothers’ clothes. Infants are being carried. The S.S. guards remain outside the gates. According to the sign at the entry, the access of strangers, even of the S.S., is prohibited!
The group is ushered into a hall about twenty meters long, painted white and strongly illuminated. Concrete poles line its center. Around the poles and along the lateral wall there are wooden benches. Above the benches, there are coat racks and above each coat rack, a number. Signs in various languages announce that each individual must place his cloth and shoes, tied together, on a coat rack and remember the respective number, so as to avoid unnecessary confusion upon returning from the bath chambers.
There are 2,000 people in the hall: men, women and children. The S.S. soldiers walk in. Then comes the order: “Everyone take your clothes off! The time is limited: 10 minutes! “
The elderly, the grandparents, the wives and husbands, the children – all have frozen still. Women, shy girls exchange confused looks, wondering: did they hear right?
In ten minutes, everyone is naked. The clothes and shoes tied with their laces are hung on the coat racks, and each person tries to memorize the number of the respective coat rack.
The S.S. soldiers make their way through the crowd to reach the double door at the far end of the hall. The door opens. The naked people throng into the next hall, which is also well illuminated. Along the center of this hall, 30 meters apart from each other, there are four poles, rising from the concrete floor all the way to the ceiling. They are not support poles, but spouts or square tubes made of tin and perforated on all sides like vents.
Everyone has entered the hall. The order sounds: “S.S. and Sonderkommando leave the room!” They exit and count their men. The doors close. The lights are turned off from the outside.
At this moment, the humming of a car engine can be heard outside. A Red Cross automobile arrives, carrying an S.S. officer and an SDG Sanitätsdienstgefreiter, a sanitary corporal. The latter holds in his hand four tin cans, painted in green.
The two step on the lawn, where, 30 meters apart from each other, four low ventilation chimneys exit the ground. They go to the fist chimney. They put on their gas masks. They remove the concrete plate covering the chimney. They open one of the green cans and pour the contents – purple pea-sized granules – down the chimney aperture. The granules thus introduced fall in the perforated tin tubes in the chamber below, where they are captured with no chance of dissipation. It’s Zyklon B or chlorine in the form of granules, which produce gasses as soon as they come in contact with air. The gasses escape through the perforations of the tubes below and, within a few seconds, flood the chamber full of people. Thus, a transport is liquidated in 5 minutes.
The modern ventilation systems quickly evacuate the gas from the room, but small quantities still remain in the spaces between the bodies, and inhaling these remnants even a few hours later causes a suffocating cough. That’s why the Sonderkommando team, which enters the room with water-hoses, wears gas masks. The room is once again brightly illuminated, revealing a horrifying picture.
The corpses are not lying uniformly on the floor. They are rising in a pile, shaped like a tower a few meters tall. This is because the deadly gasses emanated by the granules thrown into the perforated tubes infest the air starting at the bottom, to eventually saturate the atmosphere of the entire hall. The unfortunate victims are forced to trample each other as they try to scale the pile of living bodies, since the higher they are, the later they will inhale the asphyxiating gasses.
What a terrible struggle for life, which they only extended by one or two minutes! Had they been able to reason, they would have realized it was in vain they trampled their parents, their wives, their children. But no one here can reason! Their actions are reflexes of the survival instinct. I noticed that at the bottom of the corpse pile were the infants, children, women and elderly, while the more vigorous individuals were at the top.
The bodies are coiled around each other; streams of blood drip from their noses and mouths. The bodies are also bleeding, since in the struggle with death they have scratched each other. The heads are swollen and bruised, the faces so deformed they are unrecognizable.
Still, those from the Sonderkommando sometimes identify among the dead members of their families… The fear of such a meeting haunts me as well!
Although I have no mission, I descended among the bodies. I feel it’s my duty to humanity if, by miracle, I get out of here alive – which objectively I can no longer hope for – to convey the observations of an eye-witness.
A group of Sonderkommando workers, wearing high rubber boots, surround the pile of bodies and flood it with powerful jets of water, to wash away the excrements which are normally eliminated in case of death via suffocation, specifically via asphyxiating gases.
After this “bath” of the cadavers – how gut-wrenching a job, and how much detachment it demands from the Sonderkommando! – follows the demolition of the body pile. A difficult task: slings must be passed around the wrists, above the contracted hands with clenched fists, and thus the wet cadavers which glide across the floor are dragged to the neighboring hall. This hall provides access to four large elevators. The dead are loaded in lots of 20-25 on a platform. A bell announces the operator that the load is complete. Then the elevator starts climbing. Upon reaching the incineration hall, the large double doors open automatically. The hauling team is waiting at this point. Again, slings are passed around the arms of the cadavers, and these are towed along a trough built in the floor specifically for this purpose, to be finally deposited in front of the 15 ovens.
The cadavers of the elderly, the young, the children are lying on the concrete in long rows. Streams of blood run from their mouths, noses and broken bodies after being dragged across the floor, and mix with the water which flows continuously from the taps mounted in the concrete floor.
The bodies are turned face-up. A team of 8-10 Häftlings, each with a crowbar in one hand and a pair of pliers in the other, pry open the jaws of the cadavers, and extract, or rather rip out the gold crowns, bridges and other dental work in the oral cavity, throwing them in a bucket.
Then the cadavers are placed, 3 at a time, on mobile carts constructed from steel plates. The iron doors of the furnaces open automatically and the carts are pushed inside. In twenty minutes, all cadavers are turned into smoke and ashes, and a new lot is introduced.
Each crematorium at Birkenau-Auschwitz had 15 such furnaces, which could function nonstop day and night.
In the concentration camps everything was hard, painfully hard. To starve for years in a row, to be tortured daily, to be unable to wash yourself, to wear sabots on your bare, wounded feet, to work like a slave, to be apart from your family and have no knowledge of their fate. To be a guinea-pig for experiments. It was exceedingly hard to live and almost impossible to survive.
Only one thing was easy: to die.
Death, der Tod, was right at home here.
In the concentration camps, everything was terribly monotonous. Always and everywhere the same barbwire fences, the same support poles curving toward the inside, the same watch-towers with the same S.S. guards, the same barracks, the same Kapo, Block- and Lagerälteste, the same orders, the same cusswords and the same punishments, the same measly meal portions, the same moans and curses.
Only der Tod, death, was unimaginably variable. In the concentration camps you could die beaten to death, stomped upon, or having your head smashed against the Bunker wall. You could die pushed into a precipice while carrying boulders on a ridge, thrown off a wall or scaffolding, or thrown against the high voltage barbwire. You could die hanged by the neck, by the legs, or with your arms twisted and tied behind your back. You could die choked, drowned in a pond along with others, or by yourself in a bucket of water. You could die tortured, torn apart by German Shepard dogs, or buried alive in the ground up to your chin.
You could also die from various poisons injected in your veins, directly in your heart or in your lungs. You could die shot in the back of the head, machine-gunned, ripped apart by grenades, or devoured by flame throwers. You could die locked up in death trains, asphyxiated in primitive vans or modern gas chambers. You could freeze to death submerged in tubs with frigid water, or kept naked outside during wintertime, in the snow and sprinkled with water every 30 minutes. You could die burned in ditches, on pyres, or in crematoriums.
In the concentration camps, where der Tod, death, felt right at home, you could also die of natural causes. And many, hundreds of thousands, died this way: of hunger… of thirst… of exhaustion… of illness… of longing. Longing for your children, your parents, your wife, your sweetheart… longing for home… your country…. your freedom…. longing for life…. FOR L I F E!