Auschwitz II - Birkenau


 History of a man-made Hell

On the far left is Dr. Josef Mengele, the SS officer who selected the Jews to be gassed

Shown in the 1944 photo above, from left to right, are Dr. Josef Mengele, Richard Baer, Karl Hoecker, and Walter Schmidetski. Richard Baer, known as the last Commandant of Auschwitz, was the commander of the main camp; his adjutant was Karl Hoecker. Dr. Josef Mengele was one of 30 SS officers at Auschwitz II, aka Birkenau, who decided who would live and who would die in the gas chambers.

Dr. Josef Mengele arrived at Birkenau in early May 1943, just at the time that the second typhus epidemic at Birkenau was starting. Mengele himself contracted typhus while he was at Birkenau.

Dr. Mengele was nicknamed the "Angel of Death" by the prisoners because he had the face of an angel, yet he callously made selections for the gas chambers at Birkenau. He was nice to the children in the camp, yet he experimented on them as though they were laboratory rats. He volunteered to do the selections at Birkenau, even when it wasn't his turn, because he wanted to find subjects for his medical research on genetic conditions and hereditary diseases, which he had already begun before the war. He particularly wanted to find twins for the research that he had started before he was posted to Birkenau.

Dr. Mengele was known by all the prisoners because of his good looks and charm. According to Gerald L. Posner and John Ware, the authors of "Mengele, the Complete Story," many of the children in the Birkenau camp "adored Mengele" and called him "Uncle Pepi." This information came from Vera Alexander, a survivor of Birkenau, who said that Dr. Mengele brought chocolate and the most beautiful clothes for the children, including hair ribbons for the little girls.

Child survivors at Birkenau death camp

According to Eva Mozes Kor, one of the twins who survived Mengele's experiments, the children in the camp did not wear striped uniforms. It appears that the child survivors in the photo above have been provided with adult uniforms for a propaganda film that was made by the Soviet liberators in February 1945.

Dr. Mengele had a Ph.D. in Anthropology as well as a degree in medicine, which he received in July 1938 from the University of Frankfurt. He earned his Ph.D. in 1935 with a thesis on "Racial Morphological Research on the Lower Jaw Section of Four Racial Groups." In January 1937, Dr. Mengele was appointed a research assistant at the Institute for Heredity, Biology and Racial Purity at the University of Frankfurt. He worked under Professor Otmar Freiherr von Verschuer, a geneticist who was doing research on twins. As the war-time director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Anthropology, Human Hereditary Teaching Genetics, located in Berlin, von Verschuer secured the funds for Mengele's experiments at Auschwitz. The results of Mengele's research on twins was sent to this Institute. The grant for Mengele's genetic research was authorized by the German Research Council in August 1943.

Olga Lengyel, a prisoner at the Birkenau camp, wrote in her book entitled "Five Chimneys" that she had heard about Dr. Mengele from the other inmates before she saw him. Lengyel wrote that she had heard that Dr. Mengele was "good-looking" but she was surprised by how "really handsome" he was. Lengyel wrote, regarding Dr. Mengele: "Though he was making decisions that meant extermination, he was as pleasantly smug as any man could be."

Lengyel described how Dr. Mengele would take all the correct medical precautions while delivering a baby at Auschwitz, yet only a half hour later, he would send the mother and baby to be gassed and burned in the crematorium. Lengyel herself was selected for the gas chamber, but managed to break away from the group of women who had been selected, before the truck arrived to take the prisoners to the crematorium.

The first systematic selection for the gas chambers at Birkenau was made when a transport of Jews arrived at Auschwitz on July 4, 1942. The train stopped a short distance from the Auschwitz train station at a wooden platform called the "Judenrampe," where the selection process took place. The Jews who were considered fit to work were marched to the Auschwitz main camp, which was close to the Judenrampe. There they were given a shower, their heads were shaved, a number was tattooed on their left forearm, and a registration card was made for them.

Those who were not considered fit for work were taken immediately by truck from the Judenrampe to two make-shift gas chambers at Birkenau, which were located in two converted farm houses called "the little red house" and "the little white house." At least 75% of the Jews in each transport of 2,000 to 3,000 prisoners were deemed unfit for work and were destined for the gas chamber. The little red house, also known as Bunker 1, had a capacity of 800 people in two rooms and the little white house, called Bunker 2, had a capacity of 1,200 in four rooms.

All of the incoming prisoners were told that they would first be given a shower; the prisoners who were selected for work took a real shower, but the rest were taken by trucks to the two farm houses, where the gas chambers were disguised as shower rooms.

The little white house was located on the west side of the Birkenau camp, behind the Central Sauna which was completed in 1943, and near Krema IV. The Central Sauna got its name because this was the location of the iron chambers where the prisoners' clothing was disinfected with hot steam. The Central Sauna also contained a shower room with 50 shower heads.

The little red house was located north of where Krema V was built in 1943. Both Krema IV and Krema V had homicidal gas chambers, disguised as shower rooms, where Zyklon-B gas pellets were thrown through the outside windows, killing the unsuspecting victims inside.

Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler visited Auschwitz-Birkenau on July 17 and 18, 1942 and watched the gassing of 449 women and children in Bunker No. 1, according to his biographer Peter Padfield. On July 23, 1942, Himmler ordered the quarantine of the Birkenau camp because of a typhus epidemic, but the gassing of the Jews continued. On December 28, 1942, Himmler issued an order that the death rate "must be reduced at all costs" according to document 2172-PS that was introduced at the Nuremberg IMT. He meant the death rate from typhus; the gassing of the Jews did not stop.

Although Dr. Josef Mengele did not join the staff at Birkenau until May 1943, survivors testified during the Allied war crimes trials that he did selections in 1942. Besides the initial selection when the transport trains arrived at Birkenau, there were later selections of the women in the camp. Dr. Mengele was the chief doctor for the women's barracks, and he would periodically show up to select women for work or the gas chamber. One of the women who survived one of these selections was Sophia Litwinska, a Polish Jewess who was married to an Aryan man.

Sophia Litwinska made a sworn affidavit that was entered into the British trial of the SS staff at Bergen-Belsen in the fall of 1945. Some members of the SS staff at Belsen had previously worked at Birkenau and they were on trial for crimes committed at both Birkenau and Belsen. One of the men who was tried by the British was Franz Hoessler, the commander of the women's camp at Birkenau in 1942; he was transferred to Bergen-Belsen in December 1944.

In the photo below, Captain Franz Hoessler is standing in front of a load of corpses of prisoners who died from typhus at Bergen-Belsen. He is speaking into a microphone for a documentary film made by the British after the Bergen-Belsen camp was turned over to them by Heinrich Himmler on April 15, 1945. He is wearing his SS uniform, but the insignia of his military rank has been removed. Hoessler was convicted by the British and hanged on December 13, 1945 for war crimes that he had committed at Auschwitz-Birkenau, including his participation in the selection of prisoners to be gassed.

Franz Hoessler in front of load of corpses at Bergen-Belsen, April 1945

As quoted in the book "The Belsen Trial," Sophia Litwinska said the following in her affidavit:

AT AUSCHWITZ, on 24th December, 1942, I was paraded in company with about 19,000 other prisoners, all of them women. Present on parade were Doctors Mengele and Konig and Rapportfuhrer Tauber. I was one of the 3000 prisoners picked out of the 19,000 by the doctors and taken to our huts, where we were stripped naked by other prisoners and our clothes taken away. We were then taken by tipper-type lorries to the gas chamber chute. They were large lorries, about eight in all and about 300 persons on each lorry. On arrival at the gas chamber the lorry tipped up and we slid down the chute through some doors into a large room. The room had showers all around, towels and soap and large numbers of benches. There were also small windows high up near the roof. Many were injured coming down the chute and lay where they fell. Those of us who could sat down on the benches provided and immediately afterwards the doors of the room were closed. My eyes then began to water, I started to coughing and had a pain in my chest and throat. Some of the other people fell down and others coughed and foamed at the mouth. After being in the room for about two minutes the door was opened and an S.S. man came in wearing a respirator. He called my name and then pulled me out of the room and quickly shut the door again. When I got outside I saw S.S man Franz Hoessler, whom I identify as No. 1 on photograph 9. He took me to hospital, where I stayed for about six weeks, receiving special treatment from Dr. Mengele. For the first few days I was at the hospital I found it impossible to eat anything without vomiting. I can only think that I was taken out of the gas chamber because I had an Aryan husband and therefore was in a different category from the other prisoners, who were all Jews. I now suffer from a weak heart and had two attacks since being at Belsen. I do not know the names of any persons who went into the gas chamber with me.

It is not clear which of the four gas chambers at Birkenau that Litwinska was referring to. The Krema IV and Krema V gas chambers were on the ground floor and had "small windows high up near the roof" where the gas pellets were thrown in by the SS men. But neither of these two gas chambers had a "gas chamber chute" for dumping the victims into the gas chamber from "tipper-type lorries," which Americans would call dump trucks.

According to the drawings done by Walter Dejaco, one of the architects of the Krema II building, the original blueprint showed a corpse slide for rolling bodies down into the vestibule between the two morgues, which were later converted into an undressing room and a gas chamber. The corpse slide was never built. Dejaco was acquitted by a court in Austria in 1972; at his trial, the drawings of the corpse slide were entered as evidence. (The morgue at the Sachsenhausen camp has a corpse slide which can still be seen today.)

Another survivor of Auschwitz-Birkenau was Regina Bialek, a Polish political prisoner, who was saved from the gas chamber at the last moment by Dr. Josef Mengele. Bialek gave a deposition which was entered into the British Trial of Josef Kramer and Forty-Four Others, also known as The Belsen Trial, which took place in 1945 after the end of World War II. According to Bialek's testimony, the gassing of the Jews at Birkenau did not stop, even on Christmas day.

The following quote is an excerpt from the Deposition of Regina Bialek (Pole, aged 28):

3. On 25th December 1943, I was sick with typhus and was picked out at a selection made by doctors Mengele and Tauber along with about 350 other women. I was made to undress and taken by lorry to a gas chamber. There were seven gas chambers at Auschwitz. This particular one was underground and the lorry was able to run down the slope and straight into the chamber.

Here we were tipped unceremoniously on the floor. The room was about 12 yards square and small lights on the wall dimly illuminated it. When the room was full a hissing sound was heard coming from the centre point on the floor and gas came into the room.

After what seemed about ten minutes some of the victims began to bite their hands and foam at the mouth, and blood issued from their ears, eyes and mouth, and their faces went blue.

I suffered from all these symptoms, together with a tight feeling at the throat. I was half conscious when my number was called out by Dr. Mengele and I was led from the chamber. I attribute my escape to the fact that the daughter of a friend of mine who was an Aryan and a doctor at Auschwitz had seen me being transported to the chamber and had told her mother, who immediately appealed to Dr. Mengele.

Apparently he realized that as a political prisoner I was of more value alive than dead, and I was released.

4. I think that the time to kill a person in this particular gas chamber would be from 15 to 20 minutes.

5. I was told that the staffs of the prisoners who worked in the gas chamber and crematorium next door changed every three months, the old staff being taken to a villa in the camp to do some repair work. Here they were locked in the rooms and gas bombs thrown through the window.

I estimate that in December, 1943, about 7,000 people disappeared from Auschwitz by way of the gas chamber and crematorium.

There were two underground gas chambers at Birkenau, but neither of them had a ramp where a lorry or truck could drive down into the gas chamber, as Regina Bialek described in her deposition.

The photo below shows Dr. Josef Mengele with Rudolf Hoess and Josef Kramer relaxing at Solahuette, the SS retreat near Birkenau. Kramer was the Commandant at Birkenau in 1944 when this photo was taken. In December 1944, he was transferred to Bergen-Belsen, which then became a concentration camp. The Bergen-Belsen camp had previously been a holding camp for Jews who were available for exchange with the Allies for German civilians held in British and American prisons. Hoess was the Commander of the SS garrison at Auschwitz in 1944.

Dr. Josef Mengele, Rudolf Hoess and Josef Kramer

Josef Mengele wearing his Iron Cross medal, October 1943

The photo above was taken while Mengele was home on leave, after spending 5 months at Auschwitz-Birkenau. He is wearing an Iron Cross medal on the pocket of his uniform. Mengele was very proud of his medals; he earned the Iron Cross 2nd Class shortly after he was sent to the Ukraine in June 1941 at the time of the German invasion of the Soviet Union. In January 1942, Mengele joined the prestigious 5th SS Panzer Division, nicknamed the Viking Division. In July 1942, he was awarded the Iron Cross 1st Class after he pulled two wounded soldiers out of a burning tank under enemy fire on the battlefield, and administered medical first aid to them.

After being wounded in battle on the Eastern front in 1942, Dr. Mengele was promoted to Hauptsturmführer (Captain) and sent to the Race and Resettlement Office in Berlin, the same office where Adolf Eichmann was in charge of transporting the Jews for "resettlement in the East," a Nazi euphemism for sending the Jews to be gassed in the death camps.

In May 1943, Dr. Josef Mengele arrived in Auschwitz and was assigned to take care of the medical needs of the Gypsy camp. The following quote is from the book "Mengele, the Complete Story":

Within days after his arrival, while Auschwitz was in the throes of one of its many typhoid epidemics, Mengele established a reputation for radical and ruthless efficiency. The nearby marshland made clean water difficult to obtain and posed a constant threat from mosquitoes. (Mengele himself contracted malaria in June 1943.) Other SS doctors had failed in their efforts to curb typhus in the close quarters of the camp barracks. Mengele's solution to the problem was set out in one of the seventy-eight indictments drawn up in 1981 by the West German Prosecutor's Office, when the authorities thought he was still alive. In terms of detailed evidence, this arrest warrant is the most damning and complete document that was ever compiled against him. According to the warrant, on May 25, 1943, "Mengele sent 507 Gypsies and 528 Gypsy women suspected of typhus to the gas chamber." It also charged that on "May 25 or 26 he spared those Gypsies who were German while he sent approximately 600 others to be gassed.

According to the book "Mengele, the Complete Story," a severe outbreak of typhus struck the women's camp in Birkenau in late 1943, while Dr. Mengele was the chief doctor for the women's barracks. Around 7,000 of the 20,000 women in the camp were seriously ill and Mengele proposed a radical solution to stop the epidemic.

The following quote is from Dr. Ella Lingens, an Austrian doctor who was a political prisoner at Birkenau. In a personal interview given to S. Jones and K. Rattan on February 14, 1984, Dr. Lingens said the following as quoted in "Mengele, the Complete Story":

He sent one entire Jewish block of 600 women to the gas chamber and cleared the block. He then had it disinfected from top to bottom. Then he put bath tubs between this block and the next, and the women from the next block came out to be disinfected and then transferred to the clean block. Here they were given a clean new nightshirt. The next block was cleaned in this way and so on until all the blocks were disinfected. End of typhus! The awful thing was that he could not put those first 600 somewhere.

The Birkenau camp was 425 acres in size. Seven small villages had been torn down to make room for the camp; it was like a small city with a total of 300 buildings. There was a total of 140,000 prisoners in the camp in 1943, but the barracks had a capacity of 200,000 prisoners. There was plenty of space to put the first 600 women somewhere, even if he had to set up tents on the soccer field which was near one of the gas chambers at Birkenau, but Dr. Mengele didn't try to find a place for them because he had a complete disregard for human life, as far as the Jews and Gypsies under his care were concerned. In his performance review, his superior officer complemented him on his work in stopping the typhus epidemic; there was no mention of the 600 women that he had murdered to accomplish this.

Ruth Elias, a survivor of Theresienstadt and Auschwitz, who wrote a book entitled "Triumph of Hope," was one of several women who gave birth to a child at Auschwitz. In her book, Ruth described Dr. Mengele as follows:

Mengele was an attractive man. A perennial little smile showed the gap between his front teeth. Immaculately dressed in jodhpurs, he wore a cap bearing the SS insignia and carried the obligatory riding crop, constantly slapping it against his gleaming black boots. Whenever he spoke to me, he was very polite, giving the impression that he was interested in me. It was hard to believe that his little smile and courteous behavior were just a facade behind which he devised the most horrific murderous schemes.

Ruth Elias and her husband had conceived a child while she was a prisoner in the Theresienstadt camp, and when she arrived at Birkenau on a transport of Czech prisoners in December 1943, she was three months pregnant. Ruth passed several selections for the gas chamber even though she was obviously pregnant; she and her husband were assigned to the Czech "family camp." On July 11, 1944, after a selection made by Dr. Mengele, 3,000 prisoners in the Czech family camp, who were not considered fit to work, were sent to the gas chamber, but Ruth passed the selection even though she was in her eighth month of pregnancy. On July 14, 1944, Ruth was sent to Hamburg, Germany to work in clearing rubble from Allied bombing raids.

After only four days of working in Hamburg, Ruth Elias was escorted by an SS man, in a private compartment on a passenger train, to the infirmary at Ravensbrück, the women's concentration camp near Berlin. From there, Ruth and Berta Reich, another prisoner who was nine months pregnant, were soon sent back to Auschwitz on another passenger train. Ruth gave birth to a baby girl at Auschwitz, but Dr. Mengele cruelly ordered her to bind her breasts and not to nurse her child because he wanted to see how long it would take for a baby to die without its mother's milk. Mercifully, a woman dentist named Maca Steinberg, who was a prisoner at Auschwitz, obtained some morphine and gave it to Ruth so that she could inject her baby and end its life, after Ruth told her that Dr. Mengele was due to arrive the next morning to take Ruth and her child to the gas chamber.

Berta Reich gave birth a few days later and immediately injected her baby with morphine, then told Dr. Mengele that her child had been stillborn. After saving themselves from certain death in the gas chamber at Auschwitz, both Ruth and Berta were sent to Taucha, a labor camp near Leipzig, which was a sub-camp of Buchenwald.

Gerda Schrage was 24 years old when she was sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1944. She had been in hiding in Berlin during the war, until someone betrayed her to the Gestapo and she was arrested. According to Gerda's story, as told in the documentary film "Gerda's Silence," when she arrived at Auschwitz, she was pregnant by a married man with whom she had had an affair while she was in hiding. Her baby died in her arms at Birkenau because Dr. Mengele was conducting yet another cruel experiment and would not allow her to nurse the baby.

After the war, Dr. Josef Mengele worked on a farm under an assumed name for a few years, then escaped to South America; he was never put on trial as a war criminal. If he had been captured and put on trial, Dr. Gisella Perl was prepared to testify against him. Dr. Perl worked as a prison doctor under Dr. Mengele, and was a prisoner herself. According to the book "Mengele, the Complete Story," Dr. Perl claimed that a woman prisoner named Ibi had escaped the gas chamber six times by jumping off the truck that was taking the prisoners from the Judenrampe to the gas chambers; Dr. Mengele was enraged when he discovered that she had returned to the selection line.

The following quote is from a book by Gisella Perl, entitled "I Was a Doctor in Auschwitz," published in 1948:

"You are still here?" Dr. Mengele left the head of the column, and with a few easy strides caught up with her. He grabbed her by the neck and proceeded to beat her head to a bloody pulp. He hit her, slapped her, boxed her, always her head--screaming at her at the top of his voice, "You want to escape, don't you. You can't escape now. This is not a truck, you can't jump. You are going to burn like the others, you are going to croak, you dirty Jew," and he went on hitting her poor unprotected head. As I watched, I saw her two beautiful, intelligent eyes disappear under a layer of blood. Her ears weren't there any longer. Maybe he had torn them off. And in a few seconds, her straight, pointed nose was a flat, broken, bleeding mass. I closed my eyes, unable to bear it any longer, and when I opened them up again, Dr. Mengele had stopped hitting her. But instead of a human head, Ibi's tall, thin body carried a round blood-red object on its bony shoulders, an unrecognizable object, too horrible to look at; he pushed her back into line. Half an hour later, Dr. Mengele returned to the hospital. He took a piece of perfumed soap out of his bag and, whistling gaily with a smile of deep satisfaction on his face, he began to wash his hands.

According to the testimony of Rudolf Hoess at the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal in 1946, Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler gave repeated orders that the staff members at the concentration camps were forbidden "to lay violent hands on the prisoners." According to the survivors of Birkenau, Dr. Mengele frequently lost his temper and beat the prisoners, yet he was never punished by his superior officers.

Two other Holocaust survivors who escaped death by jumping off the truck taking the Jews to the gas chamber were Gloria Lyon, then 14 years old, and her 12-year-old sister, who were among the Hungarian Jews sent to Birkenau in 1944. Lyon spoke to 10th grade students at Oceana High School in the San Francisco bay area in February 2008.

The following quote is from a news article written by Jane Northrop on the web site about Gloria Lyon's ordeal in the Birkenau camp:

There, the family was separated. Lyon's father and brothers went in one direction, and Lyon and her mother were in another group. Her little sister, who was 12, was supposed to go with a different group, but she jumped off the back of the truck and ran to stay with her mother and sister.

"That saved her life. They were sent to the gas chamber," Lyon said.


They endured Dr. Josef Mengele's infamous experiments. Entire groups of people were told to strip and report to the doctor for a "medical exam."

"It took a lot of energy to face Dr. Mengele. Some dropped faster than others," she said. When prisoners passed out, they were taken to the other side of the building, from where no prisoner ever returned.

When Lyon herself fainted in the doctor's office in December, she was sent to the other side.

Naked and terrified, she was placed with the other weakened prisoners in a truck guarded by an SS trooper. The guard spoke to her in Hungarian, which she understood from living in Czechoslovakia. The guard said he knew who she was, because it was so unusual for so many members of a single family to remain alive.

The truck was headed for the gas chamber, but if she wanted to jump off the back, he wouldn't stop her or anyone who wanted to go with her. She promised not to rat him out. None of her fellow prisoners, however, wanted to join her.

"Everyone was starved and stripped of hope," she said.

She jumped and saw a ditch where she could hide in a culvert. She was so thin from the months of starvation she could fit inside the pipe and out of sight. There she hid without food or clothing. She was still in the camp, but at least she had escaped the gas chamber.

"I have no recollection of feeling any cold whatsoever. I remember feeling triumphant. I felt like I defeated the entire German army," she said. When her escape was discovered, an alarm was sounded but no one found her hiding place.

After 24 hours in the darkness, she followed one shining light that turned out to be at an unguarded barracks. The small group of surprised prisoners took her in. This group, with Lyon among them, was ordered into cattle cars and taken away from Auschwitz. Lyon longed to see her mother and sister again, but knew she faced certain death if she were discovered in Auschwitz.

After three days of travel, the group arrived at Bergen-Belsen, a concentration camp where the crematorium was burning day and night. That's where Lyon passed her 15th birthday.

Among the survivors of Auschwitz-Birkenau was Philip Riteman, a Polish Jew sent to the camp in 1941, who had the presence of mind to lie about his age in order to be selected for the line that was destined for slave labor. In a speech which Riteman gave to Riverview and Central Collegiate students in Moose Jaw, Canada in May 2008, as reported by Lacey Sheppy in the Moose Jaw Times Herald on May 23, 2008, Riteman said that he grew up in Szereszow, Poland, a town of about 25,000 people - not unlike Moose Jaw. He was in Grade 5 when the war began in 1939. The Ritemans were rounded up and sent to the Pruzhany ghetto, where they lived for nine months in a 10-foot by 12-foot room with two other families.

The following quote is from the article written by Lacey Sheppy, which was published on May 23, 2008 in the Moose Jaw Times Herald:

In 1941, Riteman's family was put on a train with about 10,000 other people. Seven days later, after being crammed in alongside 100 people in a rail car with no food, no water or bathrooms, the train finally stopped . . . at Auschwitz-Birkenau. As Riteman's eyes adjusted to the sunlight, he saw something that still haunts him to this day.

"There was a woman in her 20s, pretty, who got off the train," he said "I'll never forget her because she wore high-heeled shoes."

The woman was carrying an infant in her arms. A Nazi soldier ripped the baby from her and smashed its head onto the pavement.

As the mother lunged for the child, screaming and crying, the soldier shoved a bayonet into her stomach.

"There was just blood, all over, blood," said Riteman.

With no time to process what he just witnessed, Riteman was put in a line to be separated. Although only 14, Riteman lied about his age and told the Nazis he was 17.

Riteman - along with other men and young, fit boys - were separated into one group, while women, children, the elderly and infirm went into another.

Labourers were sent into the camp for processing, while the rest - including Riteman's parents, grandparents, five brothers, two sisters, nine aunts and uncles and numerous cousins - were sent to the gas chambers.

Riteman's story is not unique. Numerous Auschwitz survivors were saved from the gas chamber by lying about their age and there were many witnesses who saw the notoriously undisciplined "Nazi soldiers" bash a baby's head against the nearest tree or on the ground, while no one intervened.

Auschwitz personnel on holiday at Solahuette

The photo above shows Auschwitz staff members in the summer of 1944 cavorting with women auxiliaries, aka Helferinnen, while on holiday at the SS retreat at Solahuette, 20 miles from the camp. The SS men were enjoying themselves, without a care in the world, while 3,000 Jews per day were being gassed and burned at Birkenau.

After passing the initial selection for the gas chamber upon arrival, the Jewish women prisoners at Birkenau were forced to live in crowded barracks that were damp and unheated. Dr. Mengele would visit the barracks periodically to make further selections for the gas chamber.

The following quote is from a news article about Auschwitz survivor Rosa Freund in the Pensacola News Journal, published on May 5, 2009:

Although more than six decades have passed, Rosa Freund can still feel the hand of one of the 20th century's most notorious monsters on her arm.

In 1944, the 17-year-old Hungarian Jew stood naked before infamous Nazi Dr. Josef Mengele, physician of Auschwitz concentration camp known for his experimentation on humans.

"He grabbed my arm and turned me around," said Freund, now 82. "I was skinny, already. Thank God I didn't have a pimple on my body, because a pimple was all you needed to be sent to the crematorium." (The gas chambers at Auschwitz were located in the crematorium buildings, so that the bodies could be burned immediately after the victims were gassed.)

Freund related her story to a group of about 300 members of the military and civilians gathered in the Whiting Field Naval Air Station auditorium Monday for the Milton base's Holocaust Days of Remembrance program.

According to the Pensacola News Journal article, Rosa Freund described her stay in Auschwitz as follows:

Life there was nearly unbearable, she said, with hard labor often expected, only one garment allotted per person and sometimes not even a bed to sleep in.

"We got one soup ladle of black coffee, but to this day, I think it was dishwater," said Freund, who now lives in Tucson, Ariz. "We got one slice of bread. ... Probably it was sawdust and something. If you were lucky, you would get some potato peels."

According to a news article in the Quad-City Times, Yanina Cywinska survived the gas chamber at Auschwitz when she was 10 years old. Cywinska presented the Geifman Lecture in Holocaust Studies at the Augustana College in Rock Island, IL on April 11, 2005, sharing her firsthand account of the atrocities that she endured as a prisoner in Auschwitz and later at Dachau.

According to the Quad City Times, Yanina Cywinska was a 10-year-old student at the Kirov Ballet in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) when her Polish Catholic parents suddenly called her home to Warsaw. Cywinska's parents, a physician and an artist, worked to assist Jews imprisoned in the Warsaw ghetto during the Nazi occupation of Poland until they themselves were placed in a Warsaw detention center. Once the family boarded trains for Auschwitz, Yanina would never see her parents or brother again.

At Auschwitz, Yanina survived the gas chamber when adult bodies fell on top of her, protecting her from inhaling a lethal amount of poison gas. Found moaning by Jewish slave laborers who were forced to remove the bodies from the gas chambers, Yanina was resuscitated, given a uniform and told to blend in. Prisoners under the age of 15 were routinely gassed at Auschwitz, but Yanina was able to escape detection after her remarkable rescue.

When the Auschwitz camp was evacuated in January 1945, Yanina was taken to the Dachau camp in Germany, where she remained until it was liberated in April 1945.

One of the Auschwitz survivors who was selected by Dr. Josef Mengele for his cruel and horrific experiments was Yitzchak Ganon, a Greek Jew who was deported, along with his parents and 5 brothers and sisters to Auschwitz in 1944, according to a news article by Alan Hall, published on December 11, 2009. Ganon told reporter Alan Hall that he was selected for an experiment in which Dr. Mengele removed one of his kidneys without an anesthetic: "He cut into me without an anesthetic. The pain was indescribable. I felt every slice of the knife. Then I saw my kidney pulsating in his hand. [...] After the operation I was given no painkillers and put to work. I cleaned up after the bloody operations carried out by Mengele."

The following quote is from the news article by Alan Hall:

Six months later, Mengele called for him again. He was immersed in a tub of freezing water and intermittently inspected by Mengele who said he wanted to check on how his lungs were functioning.

'Then I was selected for gassing because my body was no longer any use to them,' he said.

He was the 201st man sent to the gas chambers one morning - but it was full after 200. 'That saved my life,' he said. 'I was then sent back to the camp.'

He went back to Greece when Auschwitz was liberated, was reunited with one brother and one sister who survived the SS round-ups, and emigrated to Israel in 1949.

Dr. Josef Mengele died on February 7, 1979 when he suffered a stroke while swimming at Bertioga beach in Sao Paulo, Brazil. It was not until a couple of years after his death that survivors began to come forward with stories about the crimes that he had committed at Birkenau, and a massive manhunt was made to find him.

More about Dr. Mengele

Auschwitz III - aka Monowitz

Monowitz gas chamber?

Liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau

Survivors of Birkenau camp

Death Statistics

History of Auschwitz

Auschwitz II - aka Birkenau


This page was last updated on February 03, 2010