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Day in a Jewish Concentration Camp

A stockpile list of primary and secondary resources to be utilized in the digital storytelling project.


Auschwitz Concentration Camp opened in former Polish army barracks in June 1940. Twenty brick buildings were adapted, of which 6 were two-story and 14 were single-story. At the end of 1940, prisoners began adding second stories to the single-story blocks. The following spring, they started erecting 8 new blocks. This work reached completion in the first half of 1942. The result was a complex of 28 two-story blocks, the overwhelming majority of which were used to house prisoners. As a rule, there were two large rooms upstairs and a number of smaller rooms downstairs. The blocks were designed to hold about 700 prisoners each after the second stories were added, but in practice they housed up to 1,200.

How the Concentration Camps Worked

Adam Kirsch reviews Nikolaus Wachsmann’s “KL” and Sarah Helm’s “Ravensbrück.”

My diary of a Nazi death camp childhood

Helga Weiss was sent to four Nazi concentration camps, along with her mother. Like Anne Frank, she kept a diary. Only now has it been published. Kira Cochrane meets her

Jews not immediately selected for extermination faced a living death
in the concen-tration camp. which also included non-Jewish inmates, many
of them opponents of the Nazi regime. The SS, who ran the camps, took
sadistic pleasure in humiliating and brutalizing their helpless Jewish
victims. In 1946, V. Pfeffer. a Jewish survivor of Majdanek concentration
camp in Poland, described the world created by the SS and Nazi ideology.

Testimonies of SS-Men Regarding Gassing Vans

The extermination camp was made up of the so-called "castle" and the camp in the woods. The castle was a fairly large stone building at the edge of the village of Kulmhof. It was there that the Jews who had been transported by lorry or railway were first brought...

When a lorry arrived the following members of the SS-Sonderkommando addressed the Jews: (1) camp commandant Bothmann, (2) Untersturmf�hrer Albert Plate from North Germany, (3) Polizei-Meister Willy Lenz from Silesia, (4) Polizei-Meister Alois Haeberle from Wuerttenberg. They explained to the Jews that they would first of all be given a bath and deloused in Kulmhof and then sent to Germany to work. The Jews then went inside the castle. There they had to get undressed. After this they were sent through a passage-way on to a ramp to the castle yard where the so-called "gas-van" was parked. The back door of the van would be open. The Jews were made to get inside the van. This job was done by three Poles, who I believe were sentenced to death. The Poles hit the Jews with whips if they did not get into the gas vans fast enough. When all the Jews were inside the door was bolted. The driver then switched on the engine, crawled under the van and connected a pipe from the exhaust to the inside of the van. The exhaust fumes now poured into the inside of the truck so that the people inside were suffocated....

Testimony of gas-van driver Walter Burmeister. Quoted in 'The Good Old Days' - E. Klee, W. Dressen, V. Riess, The Free Press, NY, 1988., p. 219-220:

As soon as the ramp had been erected in the castle, people started arriving in Kulmhof from Lizmannstadt in lorries... The people were told that they had to take a bath, that their clothes had to be disinfected and that they could hand in any valuable items beforehand to be registered....

When they had undressed they were sent to the cellar of the castle and then along a passageway on to the ramp and from there into the gas-van. In the castle there were signs marked "to the baths". The gas vans were large vans, about 4-5 meters long, 2.2 meter wide and 2 meter high. The interior walls were lined with sheet metal. On the floor there was a wooden grille. The floor of the van had an opening which could be connected to the exhaust by means of a removable metal pipe. When the lorries were full of people the double doors at the back were closed and the exhaust connected to the interior of the van....

The Kommando member detailed as driver would start the engine right away so that the people inside the lorry were suffocated by the exhaust gases. Once this had taken place, the union between the exhaust and the inside of the lorry was disconnected and the van was driven to the camp in the woods were the bodies were unloaded. In the early days they were initially burned in mass graves, later incinerated... I then drove the van back to the castle and parked it there. Here it would be cleaned of the excretions of the people that had died in it. Afterwards it would once again be used for gassing....

I can no longer say what I thought at the time or whether I thought of anything at all. I can also no longer say today whether I was too influenced by the propaganda of the time to have refused to have carried out the orders I had been given.

From the interrogation of Adolf Eichmann. Quoted in 'The Good Old Days' - E. Klee, W. Dressen, V. Riess, The Free Press, NY, 1988., p. 221-222:

A. I just know the following, that I only saw the following: a room,
if I still recall correctly, perhaps five times as big as this one,
or it may have been four times as big. There were Jews inside it,
they had to get undressed and then a van, completely sealed, drew
up to the ramp in front of the entrance. The naked Jews then had to
get inside. Then the lorry was closed and it drove off.

Q. How many people did the van hold?

A. I can't say exactly. I couldn't bring myself to look closely, even
once. I didn't look inside the entire time. I couldn't, no, I
couldn't take any more. The screaming and, and, I was too upset
and so on. I also said that to [SS-Obergruppenfuehrer] Mueller when
I submitted my report. He did not get much from my report. I then
followed the van - I must have been with some of the people from
there who knew the way. Then I saw the most horrifying thing I have
ever seen in my entire life.

The van drove up to a long trench, the door was opened and bodies
thrown out. They still seemed alive, their limbs were so supple.
They were thrown in, I can still remember a civilian pulling out
teeth with some pliers and then I just got the hell out of there.
I got into the car, went off and did not say anything else... I'd had
more than I could take. I only know that a doctor there in a white
coat said to me that I should look through a peep-hole at them in
the lorry. I refused to do that. I could not, I could not say anything,
I had to get away.

I went to Berlin, reported to Gruppenf�hrer Mueller. I told him
exactly what I've just said, there wasn't any more I could tell him...
terrible...I'm telling you... the inferno, can't, that is, I can't
take this, I said to him.

A Teacher's Guide to the Holocaust
Produced by the Florida Center for Instructional Technology, College of Education, University of South Florida © © 2005.

The History Place - Holocaust Timeline: Zyklon-B

At The History Place - Part of the Holocaust Timeline.

Testimonies of Auschwitz SS-Men

A Teacher's Guide to the Holocaust
Produced by the Florida Center for Instructional Technology, College of Education, University of South Florida © 2005.

Nazi Extermination of People with Mental Disabilities

Letter from chief of institution for feeble-minded in Stetten to Reich Minister of justice Dr. Frank, September 6 1940. Trials of War Criminals Before the Nuernberg Military Tribunals - Washington, U.S Govt. Print. Off., 1949-1953, Vol. I, p. 854. Dear Reich Minister,

The measure being taken at present with mental patients of all kinds have caused a complete lack of confidence in justice among large groups of people. Without the consent of relatives and guardians, such patients are being transferred to different institutions. After a short time they are notified that the person concerned has died of some disease...
If the state really wants to carry out the extermination of these or at least of some mental patients, shouldn't a law be promulgated, which can be justified before the people - a law that would give everyone the assurance of careful examination as to whether he is due to die or entitled to live and which would also give the relatives a chance to be heard, in a similar way, as provided by the law for the prevention of Hereditarily affected Progeny?

Letter from Dr. Wurm, of the Wuerttemberg Evangelical Provincial Church, to Reich Minister of interior Dr. Frick, September 5 1940. Nazi Conspiracy and Aggression - Washington, U.S Govt. Print. Off., 1946, Supp. A, p. 1223.
Dear Reich Minister,

On July 19th I sent you a letter about the systematic extermination of lunatics, feeble-minded and epileptic persons. Since then this practice has reached tremendous proportions: recently the inmates of old-age homes have also been included. The basis for this practice seems to be that in an efficient nation there should be no room for weak and frail people. It is evident from the many reports which we are receiving that the people's feelings are being badly hurt by the measures ordered and that the feeling of legal insecurity is spreading which is regrettable from the point of view of national and state interest.

Letter from Dr. Hilfrich, Bishop of Limburg, to the Reich Minister of Justice, August 13 1941.
Trials of War Criminals Before the Nuernberg Military Tribunals - Washington, U.S Govt. Print. Off., 1949-1953, Vol. I, p. 845-846.

Regarding the report submitted on July 16 by the Chairman of the Fulda Bishops' conference, Cardinal Dr. Bertram, I consider it my duty to present the following as a concrete illustration of destruction of so-called "useless life".

About 8 Kilometers from Limburg in the little town of Hadamar, on a hill overlooking the town, there is an institution which had formerly served various purposes and of late had been used as a nursing home. This institution was renovated and furnished as a place in which, by consensus of opinion, the above mentioned Euthanasia has been systematically practiced for months- approximately since February 1941. This fact is, of course, known beyond the administrative district of Wiesbaden...

Several times a week buses arrive in Hadamard with a considerable number of such victims. School children of the vicinity know this vehicle and say "here comes the murder-box again". After the arrival of the vehicle, the citizens of Hadamar watch the smoke rise out of the chimney...

The effect of the principles at work here that children call each other names and say "you're crazy; you'll be sent to the baking oven in Hadamar"...

All God-fearing men consider this destruction of helpless beings a crass injustice...

Officials of the State Police, it is said, are trying to suppress discussions of the Hadamar occurrences by means of severe threats...

I beg you most humbly, Herr Reich Minister, in the sense of the report of the Episcopate of 16 July of this year, to prevent further transgressions of the Fifth Commandment of God.

Letter from Reichsfuehrer-SS Himmler to SS-Oberfuehrer Brack, 19 December 1940.
Trials of War Criminals Before the Nuernberg Military Tribunals - Washington, U.S Govt. Print. Off., 1949-1953, Vol. I, p. 856. Dear Brack,

I hear there is great excitement on the Alb because of the Grafeneck Institution.

The population recognizes the gray automobiles of the SS and think they know what is going on at the constantly smoking crematory. What happens there is a secret and yet is no longer one. Thus the worst feeling has arisen there, and in my opinion there remains only one thing, to discontinue the use of the institution in this place and in any event disseminate information in a clever and sensible manner by showing motion pictures on the subject of inherited and mental diseases in just that locality.

May I ask for a report as to how the difficult problem is solved?

Extract from the Diary of General Halder, September-November 1941. Trials of War Criminals Before the Nuernberg Military Tribunals - Washington, U.S Govt. Print. Off., 1949-1953, Vol. X, p. 1195-1196. 26 September 1941:

h. Mental institutions in Army Group North. Russians regard the
feebleminded as sacred beings. Killing them is necessary,

Testimony of Brack, regarding gassing of insane people in Germany. Quoted in "Trials of War Criminals Before the Nuernberg Military Tribunals" - Washington, U.S Govt. Print. Off., 1949-1953, Vol. I, p. 876-886.

Q: Witness, when adult persons were selected for euthanasia and sent
by transport to euthanasia stations for that purpose, by what
methods were the mercy deaths given?

A: The patients went to a euthanasia institution after the written
formalities were concluded - I need not repeat these formalities
here, they were physical examinations, comparison of the files,
etc. The patients were led to a gas chamber and were there
killed by the doctors with carbon monoxide gas (CO).

Q: Where was that carbon monoxide obtained, by what process?

A: It was in a compressed gas container, like a steel oxygen
container, such as is used for welding - a hollow steel

Q: And these people were placed in this chamber in groups, I
suppose, and then the carbon monoxide was turned into the

A: Perhaps I had better explain this in some detail. Bouhler's
basic requirement was that the killing should not only be
painless, but also imperceptible. For this reason, the
photographing of the patients, which was only done for
scientific reasons, took place before they entered the
chambers, and the patients were completely diverted thereby.
Then they were led into the gas chamber which they were
told was a shower room. They were in groups of perhaps
20 or 30. They were gassed by the doctor in charge.

Q. What was done with the bodies of these people after mercy deaths
were given?

A. When the room had been cleared of gas again, stretchers were
brought in and the bodies were carried into an adjoining
room. There the doctor examined them to determine whether they
were dead.

Q. Then what happened to the bodies?

A. After the doctor had determined death, he freed the bodies for
cremation and they were cremated.

Q. After he had freed the bodies, had determined that they were
dead, they were then cremated? Is that correct?

A. Yes.

Q. There was a crematory built for every one of these institutions?

A. Yes. Crematoriums were built in the institutions.

Q. And these people thought that they were going in to take a shower

A. If any of them had any power of reasoning, they had no doubt
thought that.

Q. Well now, were they taken into the shower rooms with their
clothes on or were they nude?

A. No. They were nude.

Q. In every case?

A. Whenever I saw them, yes.

A Teacher's Guide to the Holocaust
Produced by the Florida Center for Instructional Technology, College of Education, University of South Florida © 2005.

Mass Murder

Naturally the SD and I would prefer to eliminate the Jews in the Generalbezirk of white Russia once and for all as soon as the Jews are no longer needed by the Wehrmacht for economic reasons. For the time being, the Wehrmacht's requirements, as the principle employer of Jewish labor, are being taken into account.

Report No. 51 of Reichsf�hrer-SS Heinrich Himmler to Hitler about mass executions in the east, 1942.
Trials of War Criminals Before the Nuernberg Military Tribunals - Washington, U.S Govt. Print. Off., 1949-1953, Vol. XIII, p. 269-272:

German Declaration of War with the United States: December 11, 1941

(Including the circumstances of the delivery of the note as released to the press by the Department of State, December 11, 1941.)

Medical Experiments

As you know, the Reichsf�hrer-SS has directed that SS-Hauptsturmf�hrer Prof. Dr. Hirt be supplied with everything needed for his research work. For certain anthropological researches - I already reported to the Reichsf�hrer-SS on them - 150 skeletons of prisoners, or rather Jews, are required, which are to be supplied by the KL Auschwitz.

Letter from Graum to Reichsf�hrer-SS Himmler, June 1 1943. Nazi Conspiracy and Aggression - Washington, U.S Govt. Print. Off., 1946, Supp. A, p. 1273:

Dear Reichsf�hrer,

The f�hrer's Commissioner-General, SS Brigadef�hrer Professor Dr. Brandt, called me with the request that I should assist him by placing prisoners at his disposal for research work into the cause of contagious jaundice (Hepatitis epidemica) which he was furthering considerably.
The work has been carried out up to now by a medical captain, Dr. Dohmen, within the framework of the research place of the army medical inspectorate, with the participation of the Robert Koch institute. It has up to now led to the result, in agreement with the result of other German research workers, that contagious jaundice is not carried by bacteria but by a virus. In order to increase our knowledge, which is based up to now only on vaccination experiments from men to animals, the reverse way is now necessary, namely the vaccination of the cultivated virus germ into humans. One must reckon on cases of death.

Letter to SS-Obergruppenf�hrer Pohl, 19 May 1944. Nazi Conspiracy and Aggression - Washington, U.S Govt. Print. Off., 1946, Supp. A, p. 1270-1271:

Dear Obergruppenf�hrer,

Following our application of 30.9.43, you gave me your authorization on the 25.10.43 for the carrying out of experiments with a view to producing a new kind of spotted fever serum and transferred 100 suitable prisoners to Natzweiler for this purpose. It has been possible to carry out the experiments very satisfactorily so far with the help of the chief of Department D III, SS Standartenf�hrer Dr. Dolling commissioned by you.

Letter from SS-Sturmbannf�hrer Brandt to SS-Obersturmbannf�hrer Sievers, 21 March 1942.BR>
Trials of War Criminals Before the Nuernberg Military Tribunals - Washington, U.S Govt. Print. Off., 1949-1953, Vol. I, p. 144:
Reference is made to the subatmospheric pressure experiments which are being carried out on concentration camp inmates in the Dachau camp by the air force. The Reich Leader-SS has approved the experiments under the conditions that SS-Untersturmf�hrer Dr. Rascher who is an Obersturmf�hrer in the air-force, will take part in them.
Letter from SS-Untersturmf�hrer Rascher to Reichsf�hrer-SS Himmler, 5 April 1942.
Trials of War Criminals Before the Nuernberg Military Tribunals - Washington, U.S Govt. Print. Off., 1949-1953, Vol. I, p. 144-147:
Highly esteemed Reich Leader:

Enclosed is an interim report on the low-pressure experiments so far conducted in the concentration camp of Dachau...
Only continuous experiments at altitudes higher than 10.5 Km resulted in death. These experiments showed that breathing stopped after about 30 minutes, while in two cases the electrocardiographically charted action of the heart continued for another 20 minutes.
The third experiment of this type took such an extraordinary course that I called an SS physician of the camp as a witness, since I had worked on these experiments all by myself. It was a continuous experiment without oxygen at a height of 12 Km. conducted on a 37-year old Jew in good general condition. Breathing continued up to 30 minutes. After 4 minutes the experimental subject began to perspire and to wiggle his head, after 5 minutes cramps occurred, between 6 and 10 minutes breathing increased in speed and the experimental subject became unconscious; from 11 to 30 minutes breathing slowed down to three breaths per minute, finally stopping altogether.

Severest cyanosis developed in between and foam appeared at the mouth...
Autopsy report

One hour later after breathing had stopped, the spinal marrow was completely severed and the brain was removed. Thereupon the action of the auricle stopped for 40 seconds. In then renewed its action, coming to a complete standstill 8 minutes later. A heavy subarchnoid oedema was found in the brain. In the veins and arteries of the brain a considerable quantity of air was discovered. 

Letter from SS-Untersturmf�hrer Rascher to Reichsf�hrer-SS Himmler,  11 May 1942,
Trials of War Criminals Before the Nuernberg Military Tribunals -  Washington, U.S Govt. Print. Off., 1949-1953, Vol. I, p. 152-155: 
Highly esteemed Reich Leader,

Enclosed I am forwarding a short summary on the principle experiments conducted up to date....

For the following experiments Jewish professional criminals who had  committed race pollution were used. The question of the formation of  embolism was investigated in 10 cases. Some of the experimental subjects  died during a continued high-altitude experiment; for instance, after one-half hour at the height of 12 Km. After the skull had been opened under water an ample amount of air embolism was found in the brain vessels and, in part, free air in the brain ventricles. 
To find out whether the severe psychic and physical effects, as  mentioned under No. 3, are due to the formation of embolism, the following was done: After relative recuperation from such a  parachute descending test had taken place, however, before regaining consciousness, some experimental subjects were kept under water until they died. When the skull and the cavities of the breast and of the abdomen had been opened under water, an enormous amount of air embolism was found in the vessels of the brain, the coronary vessels, and vessels of the liver and the intestines, etc. 
It was also proved by experiments that air embolism occurs in practically all vessels even while pure oxygen is being inhaled. One experimental subject was made to breathe pure oxygen for 2.5 hours before the experiment started. After 6 minutes at a height of 20 Km, he died and at dissection also showed ample air embolism, as was the case in all other experiments. 

Report by SS-Untersturmf�hrer Rascher about intense cooling experiments in Dachau concentration camps, 10 September 1942. Trials of War Criminals Before the Nuernberg Military Tribunals -  Washington, U.S Govt. Print. Off., 1949-1953, Vol. I, p. 220: 
The experimental subjects were placed in the water, dressed in complete flying uniform, winter or summer combination, and with an aviator's helmet. A life jacket made out of rubber kapok was to prevent submerging. The experiments were carried out at water temperatures varying from from 2.5 to 12 Centigrade. In one experimental series, the occiput (brain stem) protruded above the water, while in another series of experiments the occiput (brain stem) and back of the head were submerged in water.

Electrical measurements gave low temperature readings of 26.4 in the stomach and 26.5 in the rectum. Fatalities occurred only when the brain stem and the back of the head were also chilled. Autopsies of of such fatal cases always revealed large amounts of free blood, up to one-half litter, in the cranial cavity. 

Report by Prof. Dr. Holzloehner, Dr. Rascher, and Dr. Finke, regarding cooling experiments, 10 October 1942
Trials of War Criminals Before the Nuernberg Military Tribunals -  Washington, U.S Govt. Print. Off., 1949-1953, Vol. I, p. 226-243: 
If the experimental subject was placed in the water under narcosis, one observed a certain arousing effect. The subject began to groan and made some defensive movements. In a few cases a state of excitation developed. This was especially severe in the cooling of head and neck. But never was a complete cessation of the narcosis observed. The defensive movements ceased after about 5 minutes. There followed a progressive rigor, which developed especially strongly in the arm musculature; the arms were strongly flexed and pressed to the body. The rigor increased with the continuation of the cooling, now and then interrupted by tonic-clonic twitchings. With still more marked sinking of the body temperature it suddenly ceased. These cases ended fatally, without any successful results from resuscitation efforts.

Letter from SS-Untersturmf�hrer Dr. Rascher to SS-Sturmbannf�hrer Rudolph Brandt, October 3 1942.
Trials of War Criminals Before the Nuernberg Military Tribunals -  Washington, U.S Govt. Print. Off., 1949-1953, Vol. I, p. 221-222: 
The Reich leader SS wants to be informed of the state of the experiments. I can announce that the experiments have been concluded, with the exception of those on warming with body heat. The final report will be ready in about 5 days. Prof. Holzloehner, for reasons I cannot fathom, does not himself want to make the report to the Reich Leader Himmler and has asked me to attend to it. This report must be made before 20 October, because the great Luftwaffe [German air-force] conference on freezing takes place on Nuernberg on 25 October. The report on the results of our research must be made there, to assure that they be used in time for the troops. May I ask  you to arrange for a decision from the Reich Leader regarding the final report to him, and the submission to him of the relevant material? 

Today I received your letter of 22 September 1942, in which the Reich Leader orders that the experiments on warming through body heat must absolutely be conducted. Because of incomplete address it was delayed. Today I asked Obersturmbannf�hrer Sievers to send a telegram to the camp commander immediately, to the effect that four Gypsy women be procured at once from another camp. Moreover, I asked SS Obersturmbannf�hrer Sievers to take steps to have the low pressure chamber ready for use.

A Teacher's Guide to the Holocaust 
Produced by the Florida Center for Instructional Technology, College of Education, University of South Florida © 2005.
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