Then and Now 3 | Auschwitz Birkenau Daily Life

Auschwitz Birkenau Daily Life – Part 3

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13.Toilets

Thenand Now
Birkenau Toilet

There was no privacy, very little water for washing and little or no opportunity for personal cleanliness in Auschwitz. Prisoners were often afflicted starvation syndrome, typhus, and other diarrhea-producing illnesses.

The toilets in each barrack were totally inadequate and prisoners were often beaten while using them. The toilets depicted here were a luxury, having running water.

In Birkenau latrines were cleaned by hand, another strategy of dehumanization. Author Terrence Des Pres described it as an “excremental assault” and wrote:

“How much self-esteem can one maintain, how readily can one respond to the needs of another, if both stink, if both are caked with mud and feces?”

[Terrence Des Pres, The Survivor: An Anatomy of Life in the Death Camps (Pocket Books: New York, 1976) p. 66.]

Watercolor: Jerzy Potrzebowski
Reproduction courtesy of Auschwitz
Museum Archive, 1980



14. The Washroom at Birkenau (Auschwitz II)

Thenand Now
The Washroom at Birkenau (Auschwitz II)

The wash troughs in this barrack, resembling those used to water horses or cattle, serviced several large barracks. In BIIa they sufficed for 7,000.

There was certainly not enough time for more than perhaps 500-1,000 to wash in the morning, and no more in the evening. There was no soap or hot water.

Disease was rampant: spotted fever, typhus, and starvation-diarrhea. Infectious diseases caused by lowered immune resilience, were common and often epidemic.

If a prisoner was to resist the various afflictions that beset the prisoners, maintaining a semblance of cleanliness, though still inadequate, was necessary.

Painting: Janina Tollik
Reproduction courtesy of Auschwitz Museum Archive, 1980



15. Digging Foundations for Block 15

Thenand Now
Digging Foundations for Block 15

Auschwitz was built by prisoner slave labor. Barely seen behind the SS officers at the extreme top left, are the chimneys of the camp kitchen.

The large building between the two trees is the camp administration headquarters. The camp was 1,000m wide and 400m long, and was to contain 33 blocks for housing prisoners.

In 1941 using prisoner labor and building material gathered from demolished house nearby, the prisoners under the harshest conditions constructed eight two-story buildings. As one can see the work was brutal.

Watercolor: Wladyslaw Siwek
Reproduction courtesy of Auschwitz Museum Archive, 1980



16. “ Getting Up”

Thenand Now
Getting Up” width=

“NIGHT…. A brick has come loose from the low wall separating out cell from the next where other larvae sleep, moan, and dream under the blankets that cover them – these are shrouds covering them for they are dead., today, tomorrow what does it matter,… We feel that we teeter on the edge of a dark pit, a bottomless void – it is the hole of the night where we struggle furiously, struggle against another nightmare, that of our real death.”*

“MORNING From the edge of the darkness a voice shouted “Aufstehen” [German: get up]. From the darkness a voice echoed “Stavache” [phonetic spell of Polish: get up] and there was a dark stirring from which each withdrew her limbs. We had only to find our shoes and jump down. The whip whistled and lashed those who did not emerge fast enough from their blankets. Lash in hand, the stubhova [German: barracks leader] standing in the passageway would fly up to the third tier, to the centers of the cells, whipping faces and legs numb with sleep.”**

* Charlotte Delbo, Night (from Auschwitz and After: None of Us Will Return), (1995) Yale University Press, p56.

**Charlotte Delbo, Morning (from Auschwitz and After: None of Us Will Return), (1995) Yale University Press, p62.

Pen And Ink: Mieczyslaw Koscielniak, from the series: “A Day in the Life of a Woman Prisoner”.
Reproduction courtesy of Auschwitz Museum Archive, 1980



17. “Marching Out to Work”

Thenand Now
Marching Out to Work

“You have these feet going forward, heavily, walking before you, these feet you are avoiding and you’ll never catch up with, feet preceding yours, always, even at night in a nightmare of trampling, these feet so fascinating that you would see them even if you were in the front rank, feet that drag or stumble yet keep on going….

Once the columns were formed, there was a long wait. Thousands of women taking time going out, five by five, counted as they pass. Passing through the gate made us tighten.

Passing under the eyes of the Drexler woman, of Taube, under the eyes of so many scrutinizers….In front of the control barracks, a woman SS touched with her stick the first woman of each rank and counted… up to a hundred., up to two hundred, according to the [work group’s] size.

When that one had passed through, two SS, each holding a dog on a leash, closed the line of march. Coil by coil, the camp cast out inot the daylight the entrails of the night.”*

* Charlotte Delbo, Night (from Auschwitz and After: None of Us Will Return), (1995) Yale University Press, pp 44, 45.

Oil on Canvas: Mieczyslaw Koscielniak
Reproduction courtesy of Auschwitz Museum Archive, 1980



18. Marching through the Gate

Thenand Now
Marching through the Gate

The gate at BIb where women prisoners were marched from their barracks to and from slave-labor.

This is another drawing in a series by former prisoner and survivor, artist Mieczyslaw Koscielniak, entitled “A Day in the Life of a Woman Prisoner”.

Drawing: Mieczyslaw Koscielniak
Reproduction courtesy of Auschwitz Museum Archive, 1980

Auschwitz Birkenau Daily Life – Part 3