This is usually a comedy site, so apologies for getting all somber for a second, but we just got back from Auschwitz. I know, not typically what you hear someone say after their vacation. I wanted to take a break from laughing matters for a second to do a post on one of the horrible and mind-opening things we learned at this tragic place.
Auschwitz was one of the settings of one of the blackest chapters in human history, but it's not until one visits there that one sees realizes the full vivid detail of the darkness. One of the things I learned upon visiting was that there were other ways to be murdered at Auschwitz besides the gas chambers that claimed the lives of those sent to the showers upon their arrival at the concentration camp. There is no good way to become a victim of genocide, but these are certainly some of the worst.
7) The Dark Cell
1.3 million Jews and other Europeans were sent to Auschwitz during its five years of operation. Most of these were immediately sent to the "showers" from which they never returned, but at least a quarter million were instead put to work, expected to obediently carry out their tortuous labor. Those who committed minor behavior infractions were sometimes sent to the "Dark Cell", a series of small jail cells in the basement of block 11, nicknamed the "death block" These small cells were entirely deprived of light and poorly ventilated; prisoners served out the hours or days of their sentence in utter blackness, and often suffocated from lack of air. Although a trip to the Dark Cell did not mean certain death, it meant misery and possible death in the loneliest, most terrifying environment possible.
For more serious infractions (insubordinance, refusal to work, etc), Auschwitz prisoners were simply murdered on the spot, usually either by hanging or shooting; the SS adaptation of a fire squad was a simple bullet to the back of the head of a kneeling victim. These executions were generally carried out in full view of other prisoners, to set a horrifying example, but at least it was one of the quicker ways to die at Auschwitz.
The "Death Wall," where most shooting executions happened.
5) Medical Experiments
Going to the Auschwitz hospital was generally not a good thing. There, Nazi doctors conducted lethal, disfiguring or at least very unpleasant medical experiments on the unfortunate patients. Sets of twins were especially favored as subjects; if one twin died, the other was usually immediately killed so that autopsies could be performed on both twins at once, a situation that does not often occur naturally, and Nazi experimenters were quick to exploit.
4) The Gas Chamber
Imagine you are a woman who has just arrived on one of the many cattle trains pulling into Auschwitz (another terrible way to die, for those who did not survive the trip). You and hundreds of other women are ordered to strip down and proceed into the large enclosed shower area. There are showerheads on the ceiling, but they don't look wet. More and more women are crammed into the room, until it's impossibly crowded. Something is wrong. Suddenly the door is slammed and gas begins to fill the room from above. Panic erupts. But not for long.
The Auschwitz gas chambers held as many 2,000 people. It could take as long as 20 minutes for all of them to die.
3) The Standing Cell
If the Dark Cell wasn't severe enough a venue for a disobedient prisoner to serve their punishment, the Standing Cell was a phonebooth-sized jail cell where 4 people at a time were forced to stand all night long, before being sent out for a 12 hour work shift and then being returned to the cell to stand for another night. Sitting or sleep was impossible, and most people died of exhaustion, either in the field or right there in the cell, where the body would remain, all night, leaning limply against any surviving cellmates.
2) Backwards Hanging
Outside of Block 11 stands a three-meter post, with a hook near the top. Victims of this unspeakable torture had their arms tied behind their back, were lifted up, and hung onto the hook by their bonds, their arms breaking at the joints. Some died of shock and pain there on the post; others did not. The problem with the latter case was that you were no longer fit to work and therefore of no use to your captors, and were either sent to the hospital where the experimenting doctors could find you (see #5), sent to the gas chamber (see #4), or simply executed via a shot of acid, injected directly into your heart.
Our guide demonstrates in front of the hanging posts.
1) The Starvation Cell
For the most major infractions of camp rules, the third and worst type of specialty cell in the basement of Block 11 was utilized. The Starvation Cell was very simple - you were thrown into an empty cell, the door was locked, and you were left inside until you starved to death. Depending on the condition of the prisoner, this could take a day or a week, all the while your screams, groans, or silence were heard by the captives of the nearby cells. Following the escape of one prisoner from Auschwitz in 1943, ten prisoners were put into starvation cells to die, as an example to others.
Humans can be capable of the greatest good, and the deepest evil. Unlike most everything else I write about on this site, there's nothing funny about the holocaust. But it's an important thing to remember, so that we don't repeat it, and can get back to laughing in the future.