The women’s concentration camp (Frauenkonzentrationslager or FKL) was established in August 1942, in 15 brick and 15 wooden barracks in sector BIa (Bauabschnitt Ia) in Auschwitz II, when 13,000 women were transferred from Auschwitz I. The camp was later extended into sector BIb, and by October 1943 it held 32,066 women. Conditions in the camp were so poor that, in October 1942, when a group of male prisoners arrived to set up an infirmary, their first task, according to researchers from the Auschwitz museum, was to distinguish the corpses from the women who were still alive. Gisella Perl, a Romanian-Jewish gynecologist and inmate of the women’s camp, wrote in 1948:
Women in Auschwitz II, May 1944
There was one latrine for thirty to thirty-two thousand women and we were permitted to use it only at certain hours of the day. We stood in line to get in to this tiny building, knee-deep in human excrement. As we all suffered from dysentry, we could barely wait until our turn came, and soiled our ragged clothes, which never came off our bodies, thus adding to the horror of our existence by the terrible smell that surrounded us like a cloud. The latrine consisted of a deep ditch with planks thrown across it at certain intervals. We squatted on those planks like birds perched on a telegraph wire, so close together that we could not help soiling one another.
SS-Oberaufseherin Maria Mandl was the commandant of the women’s camp until July 1943, followed by SS-Hauptsturmfuhrer Franz Hössler. Both were executed after the war. Sterilization experiments were carried out in barracks 30 by a German gynecologist, Carl Clauberg, and another German doctor, Horst Schumann.
Medical experiments, block 10
Block 10, Auschwitz I, where medical experiments were performed on women
German doctors performed a variety of experiments on prisoners at Auschwitz. SS doctors tested the efficacy of X-rays as a sterilization device by administering large doses to female prisoners. Carl Clauberg injected chemicals into women’s uteruses in an effort to glue them shut. Prisoners were infected with spotted fever for vaccination research and exposed to toxic substances to study the effects. In one experiment Bayer, then part of IG Farben, paid RM 150 each for 150 female inmates from Auschwitz (the camp had asked for RM 200 per woman), who were transferred to a Bayer facility to test an anesthetic. A Bayer employee wrote to Rudolf Höss: “The transport of 150 women arrived in good condition. However, we were unable to obtain conclusive results because they died during the experiments. We would kindly request that you send us another group of women to the same number and at the same price.” The Bayer research was led at Auschwitz by Helmuth Vetter of Bayer/IG Farben, who was also an Auschwitz physician and SS captain, and by Auschwitz physicians Friedrich Entress and Eduard Wirths.
Defendants during the Doctors’ trial, Nuremberg, 1946–1947
The most infamous doctor at Auschwitz was Josef Mengele, the “Angel of Death”, who worked in Auschwitz II from 30 May 1943, at first in the gypsy family camp. Particularly interested in performing research on identical twins, dwarfs, and those with hereditary disease, Mengele set up a kindergarten in barracks 29 and 31 for children he was experimenting on, and for all Romani children under six, where they were given better food rations. From May 1944, he would select twins and dwarfs during selection on the Judenrampe, reportedly calling for twins with “Zwillinge heraus!” (“twins step forward!”). He and other doctors (the latter prisoners) would measure the twins’ body parts, photograph them, and subject them to dental, sight and hearing tests, x-rays, blood tests, surgery, and blood transfusions between them. Then he would have them killed and dissected. Kurt Heissmeyer, another German doctor and SS officer, took 20 Jewish children from Auschwitz to use in pseudoscientific medical experiments at the Neuengamme concentration camp. In April 1945, the children were killed by hanging to conceal the project.
A Jewish skeleton collection was obtained from among a pool of 115 Jewish Auschwitz inmates, chosen for their perceived stereotypical racial characteristics. Rudolf Brandt and Wolfram Sievers, general manager of the Ahnenerbe (a Nazi research institute), delivered the skeletons to the collection of the Anatomy Institute at the Reichsuniversität Straßburg in Occupied France. The collection was sanctioned by Himmler and under the direction of August Hirt. Ultimately 87 of the inmates were shipped to Natzweiler-Struthof and killed in August 1943. Brandt and Sievers were executed in 1948 after being convicted during the Doctors’ trial, part of the Subsequent Nuremberg trials.
Block 11 and (left) the “death wall”, Auschwitz I, 2000
Known as block 13 until 1941, block 11 of Auschwitz I was the prison within the prison, where violators of the numerous rules were punished. To extract information from them, guards would hold inmates’ heads against the stove, burning their faces and eyes. Some prisoners were made to spend the nights in standing cells. Measuring 1.5 m2 (16 sq ft), the cells held four men who could do nothing but stand, and who were forced the following day to work as usual. In other cells, inmates were subjected to hanging with their hands behind their backs, thus dislocating their shoulder joints. In the basement were the “dark cells”, which had only a 5 x 5 cm opening and a solid door. Prisoners placed in these cells gradually suffocated as they ran out of oxygen; sometimes the SS lit a candle in the cell to use up the oxygen more quickly.
The courtyard between blocks 10 and 11, known as the “death wall” served as an execution area for Poles not in Auschwitz who had been sentenced to death by a criminal court—presided over by German judges—including for petty crimes such as stealing food. Several rooms in block 11 were deemed the Polizei-Ersatz-Gefängnis Myslowitz in Auschwitz (“Alternative jail of the police station at Mysłowice”). There were also Sonderbehandlung cases (“special treatment”) for Poles and others regarded as dangerous to the Third Reich. Members of the camp resistance were shot there, as were 200 of the Sonderkommandos who took part in the Sonderkommando revolt in October 1944. Thousands of Poles were executed at the death wall; Höss wrote that “execution orders arrived in an unbroken stream”.
Gypsy family camp
Romani children filmed in Mulfingen, Germany, 1943; the children were studied by the German anthropologist Eva Justin and later sent to Auschwitz.
A separate camp for the Roma, the Zigeunerfamilienlager (“Gypsy family camp”), was set up in the BIIe sector of Auschwitz II-Birkenau in February 1943. For unknown reasons, they were not subject to selection and families were allowed to stay together. The first transport of German Roma arrived at Auschwitz II on 26 February that year. There had been a small number of Romani inmates before that; two Czech Romani prisoners, Ignatz and Frank Denhel, tried to escape in December 1942, the latter successfully, and a Polish Romani woman, Stefania Ciuron, arrived on 12 February 1943 and escaped in April.
The Auschwitz registry (Hauptbücher) shows that 20,946 Roma were registered prisoners, and another 3,000 are thought to have entered unregistered. On 22 March 1943, one transport of 1,700 Polish Sinti and Roma was gassed on arrival because of illness, as was a second group of 1,035 on 25 May 1943.The SS tried to liquidate the camp on 16 May 1944, but the Roma fought them, armed with knives and iron pipes, and the SS retreated. Shortly after this, the SS removed nearly 2,908 from the family camp to work, and on 2 August 1944 gassed the other 2,897. Ten thousand remain unaccounted for.
Theresienstadt family camp
The Theresienstadt family camp, which existed between September 1943 and July 1944, served a different purpose. A group of around 5,000 Jews had arrived in Auschwitz in September 1943 from the Theresienstadt ghetto in Czechoslovakia. The families were allowed to stay together, their heads were not shaved, and they could wear their own clothes. Correspondence between Adolf Eichmann’s office and the International Red Cross suggests that the Germans set up the camp to cast doubt on reports, in time for a planned Red Cross visit to Auschwitz, that mass murder was taking place in Auschwitz. A second group of 5,000 arrived from Theresienstadt in December 1943. On 7 March 1944, the first group was sent to the gas chamber at crematorium III; before they died, they were asked to send postcards to relatives, postdated to 25 March. This was the largest massacre of Czechoslovak citizens in history. News of the liquidation reached the Czechoslovak government-in-exile, which initiated diplomatic manoeuvers to save the remaining Jews. After the Red Cross visited Theresienstadt in June 1944 and were persuaded by the SS that no deportations were taking place from there, about 3,500 Jews were removed from the family camp to other sections of Auschwitz. The remaining 6,500 were murdered in the gas chambers between 10 and 12 July 1944.