Then and Now 2 | BIrkenau Panorama of the Camp

Birkenau Panorama of the Camp – Part 2

The concentration and death-camp complex at Auschwitz-Birkenau was the largest killing center in the entire Nazi universe; the very heart of their system. Of the many sub-camps affiliated with Auschwitz, Birkenau, or Auschwitz II, was by far the largest. The main camp, Auschwitz I was on the outskirts of the Polish city Oswiecim. Birkenau was in a suiburb named Zasole.

Unlike the main camp at Auschwitz, Birkenau is not a museum, research archive, or publishing house. It is preserved more or less in the state it was found at liberation in January 1945. However, only a few of the wooden barracks remain and are now being restored. The brick barracks and other structures in the women’s camp still stand. All four Birkenau krematoria were dynamited by the retreating SS, however their ruins can still be seen.

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7. Birkenau Panorama of the Camp [ Auschwitz II ]

Thenand Now
Birkenau Panorama of the Camp

For panoramic map see: Birkenau Panoramic Map

> Left: Women prisoners on the left are being marched to work from their barracks on the left in the women’s camp, either BIa, or b.

> Center: Unloading of prisoners ringed by armed SS guards, and selection for either slave labor or, more probably the gas.

> Rear: In the background, 3/4 km. from the front, are the smokestacks of Krematoria II, and III where men, women and children were gassed, their bodies burned, and their ashes dumped into huge pits, or in the river Sola. These were the largest Krematoria in the entire Nazi system. Originally built to exterminate the Jewish people, many “Gypsies” (more accurately named Sinti and Roma) were also murdered here.

> Right: On the right are the men’s camps: BII-a, b, c, d, e, f, g. Each of these barracks has about 1,000 people crammed into impossible living conditions.

At the peak in 1944, about 100,000 people were imprisoned here, almost all of them merely because of their different culture, ethnicity, and religion.

In the right foreground a men’s Kommando, or work unit, watched by armed SS, are carrying poles into the camp. In the extreme foreground is a prisoner foremen, or Kapo, who had the power of life and death over his charges.

Pen and Ink: Mieczyslaw Koscielniak
Reproduction courtesy of Auschwitz
Museum Archive, 1980


8. The Roller

Thenand Now
The Roller

The concrete roller was used to compact the dirt street in Auschwitz I. Human beings were used like draft animals.

The fat Kapo illustrates the contrast in prisoner hierarchy created by the SS; “prominenti” with more than enough to eat, ordinary prisoners starved.

Most of the early prisoner functionaries, Kapos and Blockeltesta (Work foremen and Block leaders) were criminals from German prisons; the worst types the SS could find.

As the camp grew others were chosen to fill these roles. Some of them were decent human beings who did what they could for their charges, occasionally beating someone when the SS were watching. It was difficult to balance one’s actions in this moral schism.

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


9. The Arrival of the Soviet POW’s

Thenand Now
The Arrival of the Soviet POW’s

Arrival of POW’S. They were starved almost to the breaking point and in some instances started eating each other.

Here, prisoners in stripes help the near-dead soldiers off the carts at the entrance to the camp. The smoke stacks of the camp kitchen are only yards away.

The saying above the front gate is Arbeit Macht Frei (Works Makes Freedom), the cynical joke adorning the entrance to many camps in Poland and Germany.

The Nazis treated the Soviet POW’S more horribly than troops of any other nationality, Hitler having deemed the war a racial struggle for survival over the Slavs and Communism. Often POW’s would be surrounded by barbed wire and left to their own resources with no food, water or housing.

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


10. Selection at Appel [Roll call]

Thenand Now
Selection at Appel [Roll call]

Capo selecting some prisoners for possibly as work detail, or perhaps punishment. Every morning and evening the roll call was required, as all prisoners, living and dead had to be counted.

The Appel was often a time of great suffering as prisoners were left standing at attention usually in the evening when someone had escaped, both in the heat of summer and bitter winter.

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


11. Introduction into Block 11

Thenand Now
Introduction into Block 11

This is the main entrance to Block 11, the prison inside the Auschwitz I. This notorious building was used for summary court martials (shown in next frame); really just mock trials instituted to create an impression of legality.

The basement of this block, shown in an earlier painting by the same artist, contained the Stehbunker, or standup cells, where people were forced to crawl into a small door at the floor and then stand in an impossibly small space for one man, let alone the three of four that were sometimes in them.

There were also suffocation cells where groups of as many as twenty men, were crammed with only a small opening permitting enough oxygen for perhaps one or two.

There were starvation cells here as well. Sadism is not so much about inflicting pain, but about having the power to do so. The less powerful a person feels, the more grotesque the tortures invented.

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


12. Summary Court Martial

Thenand Now
Summary Court Martial

Room in Block 11, the prison within the camp, was used to hear cases against prisoners.

The man with his chair turned toward us and is arm over it, is SS second lieutenant Maximilian Grabner, Director of the Political Department (camp Gestapo), and Criminal Clerk. Others are not known. He was responsible for the deaths of many thousands of people and was convicted of war crimes in Krakow in 1947 and executed.

In this scene, a man is being questioned. Almost all who cam before this were soon taken to a hold room and then out to the courtyard of Block 11 and shot against the killing wall, shot in the back of the head or in the neck.

People were sometimes executed for minor infractions like stealing bread, or clothes.

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

Birkenau Panorama of the Camp – Part 2