Auschwitz was the biggest Nazi concentration and extermination camp. It was founded in April 1940 near a Polish town called Oswiecim. Himmler ordered the building of another complex next to the original camp, Auschwitz II- Birkenau / Bøezinka, in March 1941. Gradually, four more gas chambers and a crematorium were built there. Another 45 subsidiary camps belonged to Auschwitz where prisoners were forced to do slave labor.
After arriving in Birkenau, a selection took place on the arrival platform. Doctors (members of the SS) made decisions about who would be sent to work and who would go directly to the gas chambers. Only a small number of prisoners were sent to work.
The so-called Terezín family camp
became part of the complex in Auschwitz II - Birkenau from September 1943 to July 1944. In September 1943, a transportation of 5,000 prisoners was dispatched from Terezin (274 of them were children under the age of 15). These prisoners didn’t have to undergo the selection or separation of families. Their hair wasn’t even cut in a humiliating way. However, in their documents, they were given the abbreviation „SB“ (Sonderbehandlung
), which meant „special treatment“ and was really a cover for death in the gas chamber, as well as a six months period to live. Another 12,500 prisoners arrived from Terezin between December 1943 and May 1944 (in additional transports.)
Fredy Hirsch also arrived in one of these transports. Thanks to him, the children’s block in the family camp, where the children went for education, games and theatre, under supervision of caretakers, was founded. On the walls of the block, two female painters painted colourful pictures. Most importantly, the caretakers struggled to protect the children from being directly exposed to the horrors of Auschwitz so that the children would not stop believing in the victory of good, even under these conditions. The living conditions were in fact reflected in the topics of children's games, as they imitated roll call or dead people. They had no idea what a flower, a fruit or even a domestic animal looked like.
Exactly six months later, during the night of 8th March1944, as many as 3,792 prisoners from the September transport were murdered in the gas chambers. According to preserved testimonies the prisoners were singing the Czechoslovakian national anthem right before facing death.
Prisoners from the December and May transports went through the selection at the beginning of July 1944. About 6,500 of those, who were not chosen for work, were murdered during two nights between 10th July and 12th July 1944. These were the two greatest mass murders of Czech citizens during World War II. Of the 17,517 prisoners interned in the family camp, only 1,294 survived.
The fate of about 90 boys, ages 14 - 16 from the children’s block who passed Josef Mengele’s (the Auschwitz doctor) selection, was very strange. The selected boys, including Pavel, were sent to the men‘s camp where they worked mostly as „driving power“- hitched to and pulling farm wagons with wooden wheels. They were exposed to terrible starvation and the constant fear that they would perish in a gas chamber. About 40 of them lived to see the end of the war.
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