A piece of rail hanging on a pole - it was the camp gong that set the rhythm of the day in Oświęcim. Already at 4.30 a Lagerältester, the elder of the camp, would come and hit it with a club. Everyone he woke up knew from the very first seconds that this day might be his last.
Thousands of people in blocks of flats were forced to jump up immediately from their bunks, mattresses or the straw-lined floor. For being late - even a few seconds - you could get hit by a block club with a truncheon.
Prisoners had only a few moments to "wash" in the block washroom or use the latrine (which operated in the main camp only since 1941). A lot of them just couldn't cram into them. Then, also on the run, people were lined up for breakfast. It was half a liter of tea or coffee - in the camp conditions, these names were water with coffee or a decoction of herbs.
In the morning the prisoners had only a few minutes to use the primitive camp latrine (photo:DIMSFIKAS, license CC BY-SA 3.0).
Another gong called the prisoners to line up in dozens for the morning roll-call. It was here that the order was given to form working commandos. The real competition was about to get to work as light as possible.
Who could work could live
The most desirable work was in the kitchen or workshop, generally:indoors. However, activities such as carrying railway sleepers or standing waist-deep in water and mud were avoided when cleaning fish ponds. In the long run, they led the prisoner on a straight road to death. No wonder people tried to get a lighter job through the appropriate access at the camp Arbeitseinsatz (employment office).
Few could try to hide after the morning roll-call in the hospital block. There were few medicines there, there was a cruel stench and overcrowding, but it was still more effective than trying to hide in the block. A short-term incapacity for work meant a moment of respite for the prisoner . One of them compared her to the position of a skittish dog that managed to hide in some hole.
The working day in the camp usually lasted from 6 am to 5 pm with a half-hour break for "lunch" around noon. Those who were sent to work outside the camp were even more burdened. Sometimes they left before the morning roll-call. They had to walk even 8-10 kilometers! Those leaving were accompanied by the camp orchestra's accompaniment.
No false movement or camp automatisms
From the perpetrators 'point of view, work, even pointless work, such as digging and filling ditches, not only regulated the order of the day in the camp, but was the prisoners' only raison d'être. Anyone who could work could live. This did not apply only to newcomers who were just learning the camp "primer" during the so-called quarantine.
Instead of work, the function prisoners served them mainly pseudo-gymnastics called "sport". It was a torment both in the summer heat and in the winter:running from place to place, jumping "frog", climbing a tree ... Those who could not stand it, were beaten unconscious.
Józef Paczyński, whose fate is described in the book "Good Night, Auschwitz", arrived at the camp in the first transport of prisoners. He survived, but few were so lucky ... (source:public domain).
The quarantine was a training in camp automatisms. The drill was practiced, the positioning on the roll call square, and the marching stride. Instantly remove and put the cap on command. They learned German songs and commands, as well as how to correctly report to an SS man or a block supervisor. Anyone who did not or did not learn German quickly placed himself at increased risk himself.
One of the constant torments in the initial period of the camp's existence was singing songs, of course in German, on the way to the workplace and back. Wiesław Kielar writes that the Nazis' love for this ritual weakened significantly after the defeat at Stalingrad. It was even forbidden to sing.
In order to survive the camp, the prisoner first of all had to quickly learn the principle mentioned by Józef Paczyński, quoted by the authors of the book “Dobranoc, Auschwitz”: No false movement. You will pass the German, you will not take your hat off - it will trample you .
Heavy air and contempt
The prisoners had to learn to breathe the camp dicke Luft (heavy air) not only in the sense that their nostrils were irritated by the sweet smell of smoke from the crematorium. Being behind the wires meant constantly exposed to contempt, insults, humiliation and dehumanization. The prisoner was supposed to feel that someone else was the master of his life and death.
The camp guards at every step decided about the life and death of prisoners. Their absolute power began with the selection on the ramp (source:public domain).
Inmates in the camp heard only about its "regulations", but did not have access to it. In fact, the guards could punish the prisoner for any "misconduct" - for having dirty denim (though he had nowhere to wash) or for inefficient work (when he was already depleted of starvation).
Anyone could be beaten, flogged or tortured - for example in the form of a so-called "post" - or simply shot. A clear reason was unnecessary. Everything was decided by the will and whim of the torturers. Therefore, one of the most valuable skills in the camp, as advised by the newcomers, older prisoners, was: not to be visible to the torturers, to have eyes around your head yourself, to look for threats from everywhere.
Coffee in the morning, coffee in the evening, and for dinner…
Hunger was everyday life. The combination of a camp diet with exhausting work was a mechanism designed to destroy a prisoner sooner or later. The camp soup, served for dinner, was just lure with swede, potatoes, and sometimes a bit of groats. Only those who had already experienced permanent hunger ate it without disgust. The camp bread that was served for dinner (the ration was about 25-30 dkg) was most often moldy and contained sawdust
Coffee in the morning, coffee in the evening, and a little Ava for dinner - said one of the prisoners' nursery rhymes, which referred to the name of the Avo food extract added to the camp soup. There was no protein, fat or vitamin in the camp diet. In addition, leaving the kitchen at the beginning in the hands of German criminal prisoners meant that even this vile food went to Poles in smaller portions than it should. It was only from 1942 that prisoners could receive parcels.
With such meager and meager meals to keep yourself or someone else alive, the food had to be "organized" in various ways. On the Lager black market, an onion or garlic was worth more than a $ 20 coin. No wonder that the prisoners' dreams very often included food and clean water, the access to which was usually not available - neither for drinking nor washing.
One of the cruel paradoxes of the Holocaust was that much better food began to appear on the camp's black market only after Auschwitz was already functioning as an authentic death factory. It was delivered to the camp complex together with Hungarian Jews who by tens of thousands, immediately after arriving in Birkenau, went straight from the ramp to the gas chambers.
The barbed wire connected to the electricity made it impossible to get out of the camp (photo:Leeturtle, license CC BY-SA 3.0).
Wreckage, epidemics, selections
The omnipresence of death made us get used to it. Sowieso Krematorium Said a popular saying. Especially after the fall of 1941, when the living conditions in the camp worsened even more.
The prisoners saw the bodies every day and everywhere - in blocks, at roll-call, at work. Although they did not see most of the "demolitions" (the courtyard of block 11, where the executions took place, was isolated), the transport of bloodied bodies on trolleys to the crematorium was not concealed. The sight of the sadist-SS man Palitzsch walking around the camp with a rifle was a reminder of the constant threat of execution.
The knowledge about the killing of prisoners with phenol injections or about the tests with Zyklon B in the basement of Block 11 spread around the camp quite quickly. In Birkenau, piles of corpses were constantly passed, and the mass murder of Jews, which began in earnest there in 1942, was unable to hide the Germans despite their efforts.
The conditions in the camp were killed as relentlessly as the torturers themselves. It was impossible to fight scabies, hunger diarrhea or phlegmon. Outbreaks of dysentery and typhus have plundered thousands of malnourished and weakened prisoners. In addition, there were selections, as a result of which the sick and convalescents were transported to death in Birkenau.
In the Birkenau camp, the living conditions of the prisoners were even more difficult than in Auschwitz I (photo:Emmanuel DYAN, license CC BY 2.0).
In the camp located near Auschwitz I, the conditions of everyday life were even more terrible, and diseases struck even more severely. The blocks, practically unheated, were in fact horse stables and the prisoners were crowded even tighter. Even one of the SS men noticed it: With each step, the leg sank into the sticky mud. There was no water, it was impossible to wash .
"I am healthy and I am fine"
If a prisoner had free time in the camp, he spent it mainly on trying to bring himself and the camp's denim to some kind of cleanliness. He fought with lice and bedbugs. It had no chance of success, but it was at least a temporary relief. Top-down delicacies did not help:they were no less burdensome for the prisoners than the insects themselves.
They waited for Sundays. Even then, the Nazis sometimes forced them to work, but they allowed letters to be sent every two weeks at a certain time. The prisoner had to pay for the form and stamp with food and was generally not allowed to write anything more than the formula:"I am healthy and I am well." Still, the letter was invaluable to the inmate's family.
The camp day ended with an evening roll-call. As Józef Paczyński recalled in "Dobranoc, Auschwitz": You knew:now there is an appeal and anything can happen. But when the appeal is over - the end of the murder for today . Before the roll-call took place, however, work commandos returned to the camp. They were almost always dead - the numbers on the roll-call had to match. The exhausted people had to cross the camp gate with a steady pace, and the returns were accompanied by random searches.
"Every moment seems endless"
The last appeal was a torment. It happened that it lasted until late at night, especially when the staff of the camp could not count the number of persons. If it was winter, the prisoners stood in thin dungarees in the cold, often without shoes.
From 1941, when an escape was confirmed, 10 prisoners were selected from the fugitive block for death in a starvation bunker. Appeals also took the form of a punishment:prisoners were forced to stand still, to attention, or to sit in a squat with their hands on their necks. Whoever moved was immediately beaten. Every moment seems endless, hands faint - wrote Wiesław Kielar in his memoirs about the longest of the appeals. It lasted 20 hours.
The camps were crowded so that you could only sleep on your side. If someone got up to the latrine, there was no place to sleep after returning (photo:Tyranid99, license CC BY-SA 3.0).
After supper, the gong started at 9 pm with Lagerruhe , i.e. camp night silence. It meant a ban on leaving the blocks. Caught moving around the camp, he may have been shot by a sentry. Between the "normal" sounds of the night in Auschwitz - groans, screams, grunts, barking dogs, the occasional shots - another sound sometimes cut in:metallic, as if grinding. It meant that one of the inmates committed suicide by touching the barbed wire that was energized.
For the prisoners cramped on the floors and bunks, the night was merely a substitute for rest. Ubiquitous lice and fleas, running rats, cold, moisture. For this cramped space, so that you could only sleep on the side . If someone got up to the latrine, there was no place to sleep when they got back. And if a prisoner ended up on a bunk bed under someone who had diarrhea, the night would be terrible. And yet, lack of sleep at night meant sleepiness and apathy during the day, and thus:it weakened one's vigilance. This one was necessary for survival - from 4.30 am, when the gong announced the beginning of the next ordinary day in Auschwitz hell.
- Auschwitz - the Nazi death camp , edited by Franciszek Piper, Teresa Świebocka, Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, Oświęcim 1998.
- Adolf Gawalewicz, Reflections from the gas waiting room. From the memories of a Muslim , Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum 2000.
- Wiesław Kielar, Anus mundi. Auschwitz memories , Wydawnictwo Literackie 1972.
- Józef Kret, The last circle , Wydawnictwo Literackie 1973.
- Jan Masłowski, Oświęcim. World Cemetery , Book and Knowledge 1995.
- Jerzy Bielecki, Who saves one life ... Diary from Oświęcim , Ludowa Spółdzielnia Wydawnicza 1990.
- Laurence Rees, Auschwitz. The Nazis and the "Final Solution" , Prószyński i S-ka 2005.
- Aleksandra Wójcik, Maciej Zdziarski, Good night, Auschwitz. Report on former prisoners , Horizon 2016 sign.