Sunday, June 9, 2013

Auschwitz

My readers were probably waiting for my Auschwitz blog. What can I add about the place that has already been described in thousands of books and hundreds of films? Auschwitz will remain a place of infamy for the German people. Our Polish guides always talked tactfully about the Nazis being responsible for the atrocities. Did they deliberately hold back or did they as so many others find it difficult to understand how the descendants of Kant, Hegel, Marx, Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Goethe, Schiller, Kleist, Planck, Röntgen and Einstein were capable of committing such crimes against humanity?

I shall limit myself to two small details about Auschwitz that I learned in Poland adding to my subdued mood. You certainly know that cemeteries are special places for Jews. The land of a Jewish cemetery is called House of Eternity and should remain undisturbed until the coming of the Messiah. According to the Old Testament God led his people through the desert for forty years since no Jew born as a slave in Egypt should set foot into the promised land. Those of the Jewish people who died during their odyssey were buried in the desert. Their corpses were covered with heaps of stones protecting the dead against roaming animals. As sign of remembrance Jews visiting their cemeteries place pebbles on the tombstones. It was new to me that Jews become impure and have to wash their hands to purify themselves following such a visit.

The first Auschwitz concentration camp was established on the site of former Polish army artillery barracks in 1940. The prisoners, among them many Polish Jews, were kept under such inhuman conditions that many died while others were executed for minor offenses such as stealing bread when beset by hunger.

In the morning before work there was this infamous roll-call of the prisoners

Thousands of prisoners were marched out of the camp each day to long hours of slave labor.
Note the singing Kapo marching at the left hand side in front of the marching men.

In the evening they returned exhausted, bringing with them the corpses of those who had died.
All drawings are from the "Day of a Prisoner" cycle done in 1950
by a Polish Auschwitz surviver, Mieczyslaw Koscielniak

Place of execution by firing squad located between two barracks

The corpses of those murdered in Auschwitz were transported a few kilometers away and buried in mass graves. In 1941 Himmler ordered a second much bigger concentration camp to be built. The camp called Auschwitz-Birkenau was located near the place of the mass graves. When he visited the construction site he commanded that the previously buried corpses must disappear. So the concentration camp guards started the Holocaust (total conflagration). Beyond all that I wrote before imagine Jewish prisoners digging up their dead brothers and sisters and pushing their bodies into incinerators. This may only be a detail compared with all the atrocities committed on the living but Himmler's order is completely cynical.

Entrance of no return to Auschwitz-Birkenau

The ramp of selection

Disguised language: Authorization for the transport of Cyclon B by truck
calling the gassing Sonderbehandlung (special treatment)

Initially the Reichswehr had experimented
 with a new use of horses in warfare.
However, a soldier standing on a horse
firing his rifle from a high position was
 faced with the problem of the recoil impulse.
The idea of standing horsemen was eventually given up.
The second cynical detail concerns the housing in Auschwitz-Birkenau. The buildings still left on site look like wooden military barracks but their history is different. The Versailles Treaty had allowed the Reichswehr of the Weimar Republic to maintain three cavalry divisions. However, the German military people knew from their experience in the First World War that a "new cavalry" could only survive by being armored, i.e., using tanks instead of horses. When Germany invaded Poland in 1939 the Polish cavalry had adopted new tactics too. They were no longer attacking the invaders with épée drawn but fighting with modern arms they rapidly approached and surprised the slowly advancing German infantry. Initially this line of attack was successful but soon German tanks repelled the Polish horsemen.

The German army had no longer use of some hundred transportable stables for horses. With the planned Endlösung (final solution, i.e., the liquidation of all European Jews) this surplus was transported eastward, was set-up, and served as lodging for the prisoners in Auschwitz-Birkenau and other concentration camps on Polish territory. One horse stable was initially transformed into housing for 100 people; later - with more and more prisoners arriving - more than 400 were jammed into these poorly heated horse stables!

The horse stables with two rows of three story beds. Two prisoners had to share one bed.

Young Israelis visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau

3 comments:

  1. Your blog wrongly implies Polish cavalry charged tanks i.e. Polish horse-men attacking the invaders épée drawn were mowed down by German machine-gun fire and repelled by tanks.

    They were not true cavalry but more liked mounted dragoons. They rode into battle but dismounted to use modern armament including 75 mm guns, 37 mm AT guns, 40 mm AA guns and anti-tank rifles to fight.

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  2. Thanks for the correction I shall apply soon.

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  3. Jan NiechwiadowiczJune 16, 2013 at 8:18 PM

    Appreciate the change. Best wishes to you.

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