Living conditions in Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp

Auschwitz Concentration Camp opened in June 1940 in former Polish army barracks. When Auschwitz opened it had adapted 14 single-story buildings and 6 two-story buildings of the former barracks infrastructure. By the first half of 1942 the number rose to 28 two-story blocks, the majority of which were used as housing for the prisoners. The blocks were supposed to accommodate 700 prisoners, where in reality they housed up to 1200 of them.

In the beginning, the prisoners’ rooms had no beds or any other furniture. Instead, they were given straw-stuffed mattresses laid directly on the floor. Overcrowding of the rooms made prisoners only able to sleep on their sides, divided into three rows. It wasn’t until February 1941 when three-tier bunk beds, theoretically designed for three people but in reality, accommodated more began to gradually appear.

Prisoners’ day began with a block supervisor sounding a gong at 4:30 in the morning for men and even earlier for women. The day started with beating the inmates with a stick to make them use latrines quickly. Sanitary conditions were more than inadequate. There were only a few latrines per block having to serve thousands of people. Only in 1943 when two buildings were constructed with 90 faucets and toilet facilities were more sewage channels covered with 58 holes for seating.

After the brutal wakeup call, prisoners would receive half a liter of coffee substitute or herbal tea, with no food. The second gong would be rung then and the roll call was in order. Regardless of the weather, prisoners would have to wait for the SS officers to arrive, which would depend on the officer’s mood, any escapes, or events that led to punishment. With roll call over prisoners would head out and report for their daily work assignment which usually lasted 11 hours. The Women’s Orchestra of Auschwitz was forced to play cheerful music as workers left the camp. A great deal of work took place outside the camp at construction sites, gravel pits, and lumber yards. The prisoners were given three-quarters of a liter of watery soup at midday, with meat four times a week and vegetables three times.

The second roll call was at seven in the evening, and prisoners could be flogged or hanged. In case of a prisoner missing, others would have to stand waiting until the absentee was found or the reason for the absence discovered. One such roll-call lasted for 19 hours because of an escapee. Later, following more attempts of escape, a group of prisoners who were in escapee’s work detail or barracks would be sent to starve to death. After the roll call, prisoners would get 300 grams of black army bread with a tablespoon of cheese or marmalade (made of rutabaga), or 25 grams of fake margarine or expired sausage. The prisoners would then have some free time to use the washrooms and receive their mail unless they were Jews who couldn’t receive any mail. A curfew would be marked by another gong at nine in the evening signaling “nighttime quiet”.

Work details would be suspended on Sundays. Prisoners were instead allowed to take their weekly showers and clean the barracks. Moreover, they were allowed to write to their families, only in German, although all the mail would be censored.

Our trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau

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