The inscription on the central gate of Auschwitz I "Arbeit macht Frei" ("Labor frees"). This was the name of the novel by German nationalist Lorenz Diefenbach (Georg Anton Lorenz Diefenbach, 1806 – 1883), published in 1872
The first impressions of prisoners in Auschwitz turned out to be only a tragic delusion.
Sixty-five years ago, on January 27, 1945, Soviet troops liberated the prisoners of Auschwitz - the most famous concentration camp of the Second World War, located in southern Poland. One can only regret that by the time of the arrival of the Red Army no more than three thousand prisoners remained behind the barbed wire, since all able-bodied prisoners had been taken to Germany. The Germans also managed to destroy the camp archives and blow up most of the crematoriums.
The exact number of victims of Auschwitz is still unknown. At the Nuremberg process a rough estimate was made - five million. Former camp commandant Rudolf Goess (Rudolf Franz Ferdinand Höß, 1900 – 1947) claimed that the number of the ruined was half that. A historian, director of the Auschwitz State Museum (Państwowe Muzeum Auschwitz – Birkenau w Oświęcimiu) Frantisek Piper believes that about a million prisoners did not receive freedom.
Tragic история The death camps, called Poles Auschwitz – Brzezink, and by the Germans Auschwitz – Birkenau, began in August 1940. Then, in the small old Polish town of Auschwitz, sixty kilometers west of Krakow, construction of the grand Auschwitz I complex began on the site of the former barracks. It was originally designed for 10 000 people, but in March 1941 after the visit of the head of SS Heinrich Himmler (Heinrich Luitpold Himmler, 1900 – 1945) its capacity has been increased to 30 000 people. The first prisoners of Auschwitz were Polish prisoners of war, and with their forces new camp buildings were erected.
Nowadays, on the territory of the former camp there is a museum dedicated to the memory of its prisoners. You enter it through an open gate with the infamous inscription in German “Arbeit macht Frei” (“Labor Free”). In December 2009, this tablet was stolen. However, the Polish police showed speed, and soon the loss was found, though sawn into three parts. So on the gate now hangs a copy of it.
When the front line approached the camp complex Auschwitz, the Germans, sweeping traces, destroyed several crematoriums. Crematorium stoves in Auschwitz I.
Who freed the work from this hell? The surviving prisoners write in their memoirs that they often heard: from Auschwitz there is only one way out - through the pipes of the crematorium. Andrei Pogozhev, a former prisoner of the camp, one of the few who managed to escape and stay alive, says in his memoirs that only once did he happen to see a group of prisoners leaving the protected area not in detention cells: some were wearing civilian clothes, others were black cassocks. They judged that, at the request of the Pope, Hitler had ordered the transfer of the clergymen in the concentration camp to Dachau, another concentration camp with “milder” conditions. And it was the only example of “release” in Pogozhev’s memory.
Residential blocks, administrative buildings, camp hospital, dining room, crematorium ... A whole block of brick two-story buildings. If you do not know that there was a zone of death, everything looks very neat and, one can even say, pleases the eye. Those who recalled their first day outside the gates of Auschwitz also write about this: the neat appearance of the buildings and the mention of an imminent dinner misled them, even delighted ... At that moment, no one could imagine what horrors they were waiting for.
In January of this year it was unusually snowy and cold. A few visitors, covered with flakes of snow, gloomy and taciturn, quickly ran from one block to another. With a creak, the doors were opened and disappeared into the dark corridors. In some rooms, the situation of the war years is preserved, in others - exhibitions are organized: documents, photographs, stands.
Living quarters resemble a dormitory: a long dark corridor, on the sides of the room. In the middle of each room there was a round heating furnace lined with iron. It was strictly forbidden to move from room to room. One of the corner rooms was set aside under the washroom and the restroom; it also served as a mortuary. They were allowed to go to the restroom at any time - but only by running.
Today, these brick buildings house a museum exhibition. From 1940 to 1945, they were held in concentration camp prisoners.
Three-tiered bunks with straw-filled mattresses, prisoners' clothes, rusty washstands — everything is in place, as if the prisoners left this room a week ago. Trying to convey in words how difficult, perhaps terrible, depressing impression is made by every meter of this museum, is unlikely to succeed. When you are there, the mind resists with all its might, refusing to take on trust the fact that all this is reality, and not the terrible scenery for a war movie.
In addition to the memories of the surviving prisoners, three very important documents help us understand what life in Auschwitz represented. The first is the diary of Johann Kremer (Johann Paul Kremer, 1886 – 1965), a doctor who was sent to Auschwitz in August 29, where he spent about three months. The diary was written during the war and, apparently, was not intended for prying eyes. No less important are the notes of the employee of the camp Gestapo Pery Broad (Pery Broad, 1942 – 1921) and, of course, the autobiography of Rudolf Hoess, written by him in a Polish prison. Höss served as commandant of Auschwitz - whether he was unaware of the order that prevailed there.
Museum stands with historical references and photographs vividly tell about how the life of prisoners was arranged. In the morning, half a liter of tea is a warm liquid without a certain color and smell; in the afternoon - 800 g of something like a soup with traces of the presence of cereals, potatoes, rarely meat. In the evenings, a “brick” of earthy-colored bread for six with a smear of jam or a slice of margarine. Hunger was terrible. Entertainment for hours often thrown through barbed wire into a crowd of prisoners swede. Thousands of people who lost their hunger from their minds attacked a pitiful vegetable. The SS members liked to arrange actions of “mercy” at the same time at different ends of the camp, they liked to watch how the prisoners lured food and rushed inside the confined space from one guard to another ... Behind the mad crowd left dozens of crushed and hundreds crippled.
At times, the administration arranged ice baths for the prisoners. In winter, this often led to an increase in cases of inflammatory diseases. Dozens of accidents were killed by the guard when, in painful delirium, not understanding what they were doing, they were approaching the restricted area near the fence, or were killed on a wire that was under high voltage. And some simply froze, wandering unconscious between the barracks.
The camp area was surrounded by high-voltage wires. Behind them - a concrete fence. It was almost impossible to escape.
Between the tenth and eleventh blocks there was a wall of death - from 1941 to 1943, several thousand prisoners were shot here. These were mostly Poles-anti-fascists, captured by the Gestapo, as well as those who tried to escape or establish contacts with the outside world. In 44, the wall, by order of the camp administration, was dismantled. But for the museum restored a small part of it. Now it is a memorial. Near him are candles dusted with January snow, flowers and wreaths.
Several museum exhibits tell about the experiments that were carried out at Auschwitz over prisoners. Since 1941, in the camp, means intended for the mass extermination of people have been tested - so the fascists were looking for the most effective way to finally solve the Jewish question. The first experiments in the basements of unit No. 11 were carried out under the supervision of Karl Fritsch himself (Karl Fritzsch, 1903 – 1945?) - Deputy Goess. Fritsch was interested in the properties of the gas "Cyclone B", which was used to fight rats. Experimental material served as Soviet prisoners of war. The results exceeded all expectations and confirmed that Cyclone B can be reliable. weapons mass destruction. Höss wrote in his autobiography:
The use of Cyclone B had a reassuring effect on me, because soon it was necessary to start a mass extermination of Jews, and so far neither Eichman nor I could imagine how this action would be carried out. Now we have found both the gas and the method of its action.
In 1941 – 1942, the surgical department was located in unit No. 21. It was here that Andrei Pogozhev was brought after he 30 March 1942 got a hand injury on the construction of the Brzezink camp. The fact is that Auschwitz was not just a concentration camp - this was the name of the whole camp enclave consisting of several independent zones of detention. In addition to Auschwitz I, or the Auschwitz proper, in question, there was also Auschwitz II, or Brzezinka (after the name of a nearby village). Its construction began in October 1941 by Soviet prisoners of war, among whom Pogozhev turned out to be.
Room for prisoners in Brzezinki. In the individual barracks of the camp there lived twins and dwarfs, who for their experiments were selected by Dr. Josef Mengele (Josef Mengele, 1911 – 1979) - the notorious “angel of death”.
16 March 1942, the Brzezinka, opened its gates. The conditions here were even worse than at Auschwitz I. The prisoners were held in about three hundred wooden huts, originally intended for horses. In a room designed for 52 horses, more than four hundred prisoners were stuffed. Day after day, trains from prisoners arrived here from all over occupied Europe. The new arrivals were immediately examined by a special commission, who determined their suitability for work. Those who did not pass the commission were immediately sent to the gas chambers.
The wound that Andrey Pogozhev received was not a production one, the SS man just shot at him. And this was not the only case. We can say that Pogozhev was lucky - at least he survived. His memoirs preserved a detailed account of the hospital routine in block number 21. He very warmly recalls the doctor, the Pole Alexander Turetsky, who was arrested for his convictions and the acting clerk of the fifth room of the camp hospital, and Dr. Wilhelm Turschmidt, a Pole from Tarnow. Both of these people made a lot of effort to somehow ease the lives of sick prisoners.
Compared to heavy earthworks in Brzezinki, life in a hospital might seem like a paradise. But it was overshadowed by two circumstances. The first is a regular “selection”, the selection of weakened prisoners for physical destruction, which the SS officers carried out 2 – 3 once a month. The second attack - oculist SS man who decided to try himself in surgery. He chose the patient and, in order to improve his skills, did him an “operation” - “he cut what he wanted and how he wanted”. Many prisoners who were already on the mend, after his experiments, died or turned into cripples. Often, Turschmidt, after the departure of the “trainee,” once again laid the patient on the operating table, trying to correct the consequences of barbaric surgery.
Block number 20. There were prisoners suffering from infectious diseases, mainly typhus. In this room, prisoners were killed by injecting phenol into their hearts.
Lust for life
However, not all Germans in Auschwitz committed atrocities like a “surgeon.” The prisoners' records preserve memories of the SS men who treated the prisoners with sympathy and understanding. One of them was a blockführer, nicknamed Guys. When there were no outside witnesses, he tried to cheer, support the spirit of those who lost faith in salvation, sometimes he warned against possible dangers. The guys knew and loved the Russian proverbs, tried to apply them to the place, but sometimes it came out awkwardly: “Who does not know, God helps,” is his translation “hope for God, but don’t make it yourself.”
But, in general, the will of the Auschwitz prisoners to life is astounding. Even in these monstrous conditions, where people were treated worse than animals, the prisoners tried to lead a spiritual life without plunging into the sticky facelessness of despair and hopelessness. Verbal retellings of novels, entertaining and humorous stories were especially popular among them. Sometimes you could even hear someone playing the harmonica. In one of the blocks are now exhibited the remaining pencil portraits of prisoners, made by their comrades.
In block number 13, I was able to view the camera in which the last days of my life were spent by St. Maximilian Kolbe (Maksymilian Maria Kolbe, 1894 – 1941). This Polish priest in May 1941 became the prisoner of Auschwitz number 16670. In July of the same year, one of the prisoners escaped from the block where he lived. In order to prevent such disappearances, the administration decided to punish ten of its neighbors in the barrack - to starve to death. Among those sentenced was a Polish sergeant Frantisek Gajovnichek (Franciszek Gajowniczek, 1901 – 1995). His wife and children remained free, and Maximilian Kolbe proposed to exchange his life for his own. After three weeks without food, Kolbe and three other suicide bombers were still alive. Then 14 August 1941, it was decided to kill them by injection of phenol. In 1982, Pope John Paul II (Ioannes Paulus II, 1920 – 2005) counted Kolbe among the holy martyrs, and August 14 is celebrated as the day of memory of St. Maximilian Maria Kolbe.
The Wall of Death between the 10 and 11 blocks. Those who were shot here were considered “lucky” - their death was quick and not as painful as in the gas chamber.
About one million visitors from all over the world come to Auschwitz every year. Many of them are those people whose family history is somehow connected with this terrible place. They come to honor the memory of their ancestors, to look at their portraits on the walls of the blocks, to lay flowers at the Wall of Death. But many come to just see this place and, no matter how hard it is, accept the fact that this is part of a story that is no longer possible to rewrite. It is also impossible to forget ...