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- Story Listed as: Fiction For Adults
- Theme: Drama Stories / Human Interest Stories
- Subject: History / Historical
- Published: 03/24/2020
Arbeit Mach Frei
(Work will set you free)
Dear readers; I have written this in English. However please keep in mind that those who interact during this short piece will have spoken in their native language. By remembering this as you read, it will enhance the authenticity of the story for you. This is partly a work of fiction with interwoven facts for dramatic purposes. It centers on the last few days before the liberation of Auschwitz seen through the eyes of prisoner Abraham Weisman. All the German officers mentioned in this story are real. This is a long piece but please do read it in its entirety to fully appreciate it.
‘’What is done cannot be undone, but one can prevent it happening again’’ -Anne Frank.
(If you would like to see some images as you read please cut and paste the link I have provided into your browser thank you) : https://remember.org/camps/birkenau
One :The dying stream
5:30am January 24th 1945 Auschwitz concentration camp occupied Poland Men’s Barracks B11
I hear shouting and I am now awake. Almost immediately I feel the coldness of a bitter wind and see it in my breath. My body is sore from the wooden slats I sleep upon and the smell of death is strong. It is German SS Unterscharfuhrer Oskar Groning who is causing the commotion and he is unhappy. Something is wrong, I can see it in his face. ‘Filthy Jews, you are no better than rats’ he is saying as he makes his way briskly through the barracks counting the prisoners one by one cowering on their beds as he goes. I want to say to him, We are not rats but human beings!, But I cannot for fear of my life, because he would shoot me without a second thought with the pistol he is carrying. My protest would be wasted in any case, on his indifference, of that I am certain, for he is un-human, what kind of man would mete out the cruelty we have had to endure and not feel any penitence. However he is only one of many here. God it would seem has forsaken this place and allows the devil and his demons to reign. Yet as yesterdays evening drew in and as the cold winter sun was setting I could hear the thunder of cannon fire and the rumbling of tanks in the outer woods beyond the train tracks. I took some comfort from the sounds of the approaching guns, which gave me hope that the devils day of reckoning was perhaps somehow looming and Oskar Groning knows it is close.
My friend Josef and I speculated on this very same subject as we lay side by side last night in the darkness. We spoke in low voice as we shared a crust of bread he had stolen from the guards mess table when he cleaned it.
‘There is talk among the officers and soldiers, Abraham, nervous talk’ he said. ‘I know they pay no notice of me as I am there only to serve; they see me as nothing more than the dirt on their boots. To them I am invisible, but I listen’.
‘Tell me what was discussed?’ I whispered.
‘They’re afraid Abraham, I know it’s hard to believe but they are frightened. Most are nervous about the fighting going on outside the camp. You must have heard the gunfire have you not? ’
‘Yes, each day it seems to be getting closer’ I said.
‘When the soldiers are drunk their tongues become looser and they say things, cursing Hitler for starting this war. Blustering among themselves of how they should kill the commandant and flee before the Russians arrive at the gate. That is what they fear the most, being captured by the Red Army’
‘Perhaps getting a taste of their own brutality would be poetic justice’ I said.
‘Maybe, but they will have to answer to God, Abraham, for what they have done’
I admired Josef’s optimism in his belief that soon they could be accountable, but for me it was more naivety any such punishment would be of divine retribution. I bit down hard on my stale bread and chewed at it vigorously in anger. ‘Cant you see he has abandoned us here Josef, what God would let a child die naked in their Mothers arms, gassed by poisonous fumes that burn into their tiny lungs and eyes as they cry pitifully for their Fathers. Or do nothing as the frail and old are placed against a wall and shot within moments of getting off the trains, which never stop bringing them here. Do not forget we are the ones, you and I, who are made to take their bodies to the fire pits and ovens for burning. Those who are lucky to avoid the chambers will be starved of food and water and beaten endlessly while being worked to death, that my friend is our fate I fear’.
Josef quietly nodded, ‘Some are saying the war is lost for the Nazi’s, only yesterday I overheard Hugo Brochner talking with a few Schutzstaffel (SS) While they where gathered at the death wall near block 11, sharing cigarettes and laughing at a weeping young boy who was to be executed for breaking into the pig sty to steal the pigs food. They had tied him to the flogging table -the ‘goat’. God help me his screams as he was being lashed made me so angry I wanted to murder that Kapo myself with my bare hands. But what could I do Abraham? I had no weapons; they would have killed me before I could have got to him. I was there waiting to take the boys body to the pit after he was shot when I heard Hugo ask one of them, was it true what the rumors were saying. Had their Führer gone mad and was he hiding like a coward in his Berlin bunker. One of the guards on hearing this struck him hard across the face with the back of his hand for his insubordination, sending him crashing to the ground. ‘‘Judischer Hund‘‘ he shouted as he kicked him. ‘Schmutziger Judischer Hund’ Filthy Jewish dog, how dare you disrespect mien Fuhrer'. oh how I wished they had shot dead that brutal Kapo traitor Hugo there and then’
‘A rumor which is raised of nothing soon vanishes Josef’ I said before rolling onto my back. ‘Besides, let us say it is true what they say, why then does the gassing, the executions and the beatings still continue. Only two days ago three more full trains arrived. Do you not think the commandant would know what was going on in Berlin and make good his escape?’
‘Perhaps you are right Abraham, and maybe the stories I hear are wrong, but I know one day that evil devil Rudolf Hoss will burn in hell’
‘What happened to the boy?’ I asked.
Josef sighed sorrowfully and said, 'when his flogging was finished, Hugo and the SS guards beat him to death with their rifles, they didn’t want to waste a bullet on him’
5:45am January 24th 1945 Auschwitz concentration camp occupied Poland
Now I am standing in my bare feet, the barracks ground is so cold below them it sends pain like a thousand knives at once cutting into my trembling legs. Josef is dead. And I know if I fall from fainting Groning will kill me also. A few others like him have not made it through the night so the stink of death hangs heavy in the air. It is mostly the starvation to which they succumb or from the fever of disease. ‘Wie Hiben sie- what is your name? He asks looking at me with lifeless eyes’
‘Abraham Weisman sir’ I offer in a whisper.
‘Wie alt sind Sie?’
‘I am thirty two years old sir’
‘Your friend is dead, yes?’ he is pointing to Josef, but I do not look round. ‘Would you like to join him?’ he says and raises his pistol to my temple. His arrogance is apparent as the power he portrays but he hides behind the security of the uniform he wears as an SS Unterscharfuhrer. In another time I think this little man with his boyish thin face and round silver spectacles would be nothing more than the lowly book keeper he is. Two ‘wachens’ with machine guns accompany him, the foundation of his bravado I am sure. To say nothing I think is the wisest option. After a long moment he lowers his gun and smirks in the direction of the guards. ‘Schmutzige Juden!’ he laughs.
‘Take your friend to the crematorium because he is fouling up the air I am being forced to breathe in here, then come back for the others.’ Groning then orders another man to assist me, his name is Adam Jaros, a Slovak gypsy. He and I are the same age but he is smaller than my six feet. His face is pale and gaunt with malnutrition and his filthy blue and white striped prisoner’s uniform is threading bare and drapes hideously loose over his skeletal bones. We have talked a few times before but I know little about him. He looks at me with sorrowful eyes which are sunken and unresponsive; a soul deprived of all hope is all I see. There is nothing in them.
‘May I have his coat?’ he asks meekly shuffling towards me.
‘Take it’ I say glancing at Josef’s lifeless body. ‘He will have no use for it now’
‘He was a good man, your friend. Sometimes he would give me bread or a boiled potato he had stolen. I am sorry he is dead’
‘As am I, but we must not talk idly while Groning is here’ I said. ‘He will order one of the wachen to shoot us for our idleness, Now quickly help me with Josef before he comes back this way’
We pulled his body out from the bed and laid him on the cold ground. Adam took his coat and we stripped him of his uniform. It was better than the ones Adam and I were wearing so we agreed to share it. I took his boots as well. ‘Outside the crematorium you will find a wooden wheel barrow, it’s a small cart big enough to hold a corpse’ I told him. ‘Fetch it while I see how many others there are. can you do that?’
Adam quietly nodded then went. Sorrow began to fill my heart as I looked down upon the face of my deceased friend. I began to think how countless times over the years he and I took the dead to be burned each day. All those immeasurable souls we’d ferried unspeaking to the chambers of death and each time thinking quietly to ourselves as we pushed the cart along how tomorrow it could be one of us upon it. Today regretfully I fear Josef’s tomorrow has come.
While Adam was away I counted three more, too many, I thought, to move at once on one small cart. We would have to make at least two trips. Groning was still at the back of the barracks with the two guards finishing his count as I approached the last of the bodies.
He was speaking to them from behind a small white linen handkerchief he was using to cover his lower face to mask the smell. His voice was low and slightly distorted because of it but I could make out some of what they were saying.
‘’Trenne die jungsten und die starksten gase dann den rest‘‘ he was ordering. Separate the young and the strong, and then shoot the rest. ‘’Wir mussen bereit sein zu marschieren’’, when I heard this I knew then why he looked so worried. It would seem they were getting ready to move from the camp. Their intention was before long to force us to march, to where I couldn’t hear, but many would die along the way that much I was certain of. I began to think as I dragged out another poor soul by his stick thin arms, Josef may have been right about the rumors after all.
Adam appeared in the doorway just as me and two other men who had offered to help carry the dead came to it. ‘Have you got the cart?’ I asked him. ‘Yes its here but we can’t take them straight to the crematoriums’ he said, ‘there is already too many waiting to be burned at them all, something is going on’
‘What about the fire pits near the little wooded area?’
He shook his head. ‘I don’t know, I didn’t go that far’
‘We will take Josef and one other there then, help me with him’ I said.
One of the men who I knew only as Pieter asked me what they should do with the two bodies they had carried to the door. I told him with the aid of his friend to place them outside and we would return for them later. Before I could explain to them why, we were interrupted by the sound of raised voices coming from the back of the barracks. We looked round just in time to see Groning take one step back and raise his pistol to a prisoner’s head who was begging for his life. Without any hesitation he pulled the trigger. There was a sudden crack of a bullet which echoed loudly through the barracks. Then there was silence. The man dropped immediately to his knees falling forward onto the dirt floor, his face making a sickening thud as it struck. Hot steaming blood began to flow from his nostrils and eyes and his body twitched uncontrollably in his final moments of life. I looked at Groning who was calmly replacing his pistol into its leather holster on his belt while wiping away droplets of blood from his face with his handkerchief.
‘’Du da’’ he said pointing to me, ‘’Ich habe noch eine tote Ratte fur dich’.’ the two wachens began to laugh. One of them kicked the dead man in the head like it was a football.
0.6.00 am January 24th 1945 Auschwitz concentration camp occupied Poland
Two: The final solution?
The small room which had been chosen was sparsely furnished with a wooden table and two chairs, each one either side facing the other. The seat closest to the door was slightly smaller, not noticeable as you enter, the optical illusion created by the tables position made them seem equal. But the occupants that were due to come in were never going to be coequal, and that was a deliberate perspective of one who was hoping to dominate the conversation.
A small lamp of army gray had been set on the table, its exact orientation site instructed upon the previous night, two pencils and a small note pad lay waiting to be used. Placed just as ordered similarly to the lamp. Deviation to any command would not be an option by those who were entrusted. to speak of what was to follow would mean certain death, secrecy was to be the utmost to a small few who would be forever entwined in history. A continuum being drawn closer by the intrusion of dawns light edging into the structure. The room offered no form of heating, its construction was not meant for any pleasure or long term accommodation, finished in bear timber walls and flooring meshing into one antique pine discolored décor: practical and depressing.
Rudolf Hoss kisses his wife Hedwig on the forehead while she is still sleeping; slowly and quietly he moves along the hallway and opens each door in turn to check on his five children who are also fast asleep in the other two remaining bedrooms of the small timber framed house. For a moment he hesitates and considers making coffee, but he has overslept and is anxious to begin his day. At 6.02 am he steps out into the cold morning, the chill of the Western Polish air bites at his face and vapor forms marking the calmness of his breathing. He briefly surveys the area before him, two hundred yards to his left he can see the tower guards pacing back and forth above the barb wired rear entrance. Two well constructed gates hinged on either side of the towers. Each structure held a machine gun turret. one turned into the main holding grounds and another facing outwards toward the dirt road leading in from the woods. The same distance to his right are the railway lines leading into Berkenau gate, the main entrance into the camp.
The red brick facade would rise up from the ground to those approaching by the three tracks that merged into one, arriving from the North, the South and the East, Carrying a cargo of brothers, sisters, Fathers and Mothers; Grand parents, the old and frail.
Two archways formed the buildings length, the largest one center where the tracks united and a smaller one a third of the way along that allowed the road to converge into a bantam courtyard. This is where he would travel in and outwards on the occasions he and his wife would go into the town.
Above the middle arch which rose to twenty feet at its height was a 360 degree viewing room with four large glass windows, each one covered by an armed guard twenty four hours a day, every day. Hoss smiled to himself, satisfied he had been proficient in his running of the camp. He was skillful in carrying out his orders and felt pride he hadn’t shunned away from the task which had been requested of him.
He knew history was happening here right now and he had been willing to take part in what ever was going to be his destiny. Before taking his first steps towards the main camp Hoss applied a layer of scented oil below his nose from a bottle he kept in his overcoat pocket. He would need to pass the main cremation chambers to get to the small Amour room he had cleared for his meeting. A precaution he occasionally used to disguise the smell of burning bodies, an aroma unnatural to any man made him nauseous and without the benefit of a full stomach it would be less easy to avoid being sick. He could not be seen to be weak in front of his men, the Fuhrer had chosen him to lead his soldiers to victory and to carry out the solution, which would eradicate the disease that had inflicted the world since Jesus was crucified- he promised him he would not falter.
The bitter cold began to bite into his bones; even with the benefit of his SS overcoat it seemed to penetrate him, it felt like the sun never shone in this godforsaken land. It was a far cry from the city of his birth, Baden, in the foothills of the Black Forest south West Germany. A place he hoped he may return to some day god willing. He adjusted his cap and blew into the palm of his hands to warm them with his breath, momentarily cursing himself for forgetting his leather gloves. He did think briefly about returning inside to retrieve them from his bedroom drawer, but that would mean the possibility of wakening his wife and or his children. He was already late so he decided against the idea; he would keep them in his coat pockets on his short journey.
Just beyond his line of vision from where he stood the main camps were broken up into three: Auschwitz 1, his offices and administrative buildings, Berlkenau, the main extermination camp, and Auschwitz 3- Monowitz, where he housed the slave labor along with sub-camps and Buna. Forty square kilometers made up of twenty eight two story buildings. A well designed area purposefully built to accommodate the arrival of three trains daily for six weeks, carrying two thousand in each, and the destruction of ten thousand every twenty four hours.
It was his objective since his posting to camp commandant that he would not repeat the failures he had witnessed at Treblinka. Those arriving there almost certainly knew they were to die. His own method was much more subtle. He had designed the gas chambers to look like showers; each group would be methodically selected between those who could work and those who should die. Individuals chosen, usually women and children and the frail, would be told they needed to be deloused and moved straight into the chambers to shower. Some did realize what was occurring and he had seen riots break out because of it, but they never got in the way of efficiency. the four large cremation units helped to deal with the continuous dying stream.
Hoss started his short walk in a hunched but confident manner working himself up into a sauntering stride along the loose gravel pathway, his black perfectly polished uniform boots crunched and shifted in the frost covered stones. Occasionally he would salute a patrolling soldier or acknowledge a trusted worker; even at such an early hour the camp was busy with what would be daily tasks in any normal prison.
But this was no model jail or correctional institution; this was a place of death, a construction dreamed up by the devil himself.
He passed the storage rooms that held the clothes and footwear that were removed upon arrival. He turned at the place were they sorted the gold fillings from the teeth after cremation. And he stopped and chatted briefly to a guard outside the units that held the children's toys and spectacles that were taken away from the arriving prisoners on the pretence that they would be returned after their arranged delousing.
Today there would be no trains, the last arrived late the day before and already the bodies had to be stacked and stored until they could be burned. He had given the order to open up the extra gassing bunkers located deep in the woods to accommodate the backlog. The only visitors he was expecting today were of the highest rank, the meeting would be frank and heated he was sure of that. Inside his coat pocket, as he walked, he touched his wedding ring gently with his thumb and began to think about his wife and children, and his future.
0.6.10 am January 24th 1945 Auschwitz concentration camp occupied Poland Men’s Barracks B11
Adam and I had just placed Josef on top of one of the other dead men. It was the least I could do as a mark of respect for my friend on his final journey. Then Groning came out along with the two guards. The one who had kicked the dying prisoner in the head started to wipe the blood from the toe of his boot on the back of his trouser leg while they paused to talk. This clearly aggravated Groning and he began pointing at his wrist watch looking agitated as if they were late for something before all three headed hastily in the direction of the women’s barracks.
‘Do you have any family here Abraham?’ Adam asked breaking into my concentration.
‘No, No one, they are all dead’ I replied ‘Now help me push’. we began to walk.
‘My sister’s name is Alica, it means noble and kind. She is two years older than me; I have seen her only a few times since we arrived last year. I know my Mother and father are dead and my younger brother Demitri. So I pray each night she and I will be united some day.’
‘God isn’t listening any more’ I told him.
06.14am January 24th 1945 Auschwitz concentration camp occupied Poland.
Three: Birkenau Entrance: The Hole in the World
Volksdeutsche guard block officer Stefan Baretzki is talking with SS Obersturmfuhrer Johann Schwarzhuber (commandant of Auschwitz II-Birkenau). they are sharing a cigarette together. Both men are aware a visit by a high ranking officer is due to take place soon. But commander Hoss hasn’t told them who. Baretzki seems nervous this morning to his friend, he is fidgety and uneasy in his manner, constantly shifting from one foot to another. They are listening to the sounds of gunfire coming from the woods beyond the gate they are facing.
‘’Sie kommen näher Johann, hörst du sie nicht?’‘ he says.
‘’Of course I hear them Stefan, but we must have faith in our brave soldier brothers to cut the head from the Russian snake which threatens to bite at our feet.’’
‘’I think we should take our chances with the red army and surrender, Johann. if they make it to the gates and then into the camp we will almost certainly be executed. We can say we were only following orders.’’
‘’I fear it’s too late for that Stefan’’ Schwarzhuber says, crushing out his cigarette under his boot.
‘’They would soon find out you and I were exceptionally artfully ardent in carrying out our duties. Do you not think the prisoners will have their stories to tell once they are liberated? Why you yourself were more than proficient in these matters. And what if you were caught by our own troops in your act of desertion, surely the outcome would be the same. No, better to take our chances here I think, besides I have a feeling new orders will be known soon’’
‘’Do you know what the people in the town call this place, Johann. they have named it ‘Das Loch in der welt, ’
‘The hole in the world, I know, I have heard that too.’
Baretzki nervously lights another cigarette up from the one he is just finishing and blows out a puff of white smoke into the cold air. A light rain has begun to fall and both men turn up almost in unison the collars of their heavy gray SS overcoats. ‘’Looks like we may not have to wait much longer for our new orders’’ Schwarhuber points towards the gates as in the distance two black Mercedes elite staff cars complete with red and black swastika insignia are approaching at speed.
06.25am January 24th 1945 Auschwitz concentration camp occupied Poland little wood fire pit.
When Adam and I arrive at the fire pit the stench of smouldering flesh is overpowering. At least fifty bodies are burning. The white smoke from the iron slated covered trench rises into the sky through the trees like an angry tornado. Kapa Hugo Brochner is overseeing four prisoners who are rhythmically throwing more dead onto the blaze from the ground where they are stacked in a hideously tangled heap of arms, heads and legs. He’s holding a luger pistol in his right hand and his whipping stick in his left which he is slowly tapping off his leg. Unusually there are no other guards around.
Brochner is big bear of a man with a heavy stomach which overhangs his ill fitting trousers and stretches his shirt buttons almost to breaking point. His head hair is shaved tight to his skin showing just a tide mark of gray around his forehead and ears. And he wheezes loudly as he breathes like a snoozing walrus that smells of beer. ‘Throw them with the rest of the rats who are waiting’ he orders when he sees us. What he has said makes me angry.
‘you are a Jew how you can do this to your own people?’ I ask him. His empty eyes look at me briefly before I feel the sharp pain of his whipping stick as it cuts into the side of my face. A warm trickle of salty blood runs from the cut into my mouth. Brochner has blindsided me. ‘Go’wno’ he screams in his heavy polish accent. Before he can strike again I lunge forward grabbing him around his bulky waist. We topple to the damp ground and land with a thud, it takes his breath away and soon he is gasping for air. But he continues to beat me across my back hard with his stick while both our legs writhe wildly in the muddy grass. Slowly I begin to feel myself succumb to the pain of his pounding; I am weak with starvation and unable to match his strength. He is winning the fight.
At that moment from behind a shot is fired, so loud is the noise it hurts my ear. Blood instantly streaks over my face and when I look round Adam is standing over us with the Lugers barrel smoking in his trembling hand. His face white with fear. Brochner has stopped hitting me and is grasping at his neck. Blood seeps through his fingers as he tries to stem its flow, but it is useless. After a few short gasps for air his eyes roll back into his head and almost immediately he’s dead. Adam drops the gun and falls to his knees burying his head into his hands.
‘Co som urobil, Abraham?’ he is sobbing ‘What have I done?’
The other men come over and gather round Brochner, one of them spits in his face and kicks him hard between his legs. ‘Kapo Traitor’ he says before helping Adam to his feet. ‘I’m glad he’s dead but they will kill all of us for this.
06.30am January 24th 1945 Auschwitz concentration camp occupied Poland Converted former Armoury room.
Five: A fools Dream
Commandant Rudolf Hoss holds out a silver cigarette case and offers the bi-speckled man with the wispy moustache and his two companions sitting across the table each a German rationed Wehrmacht. The ornate container in his hand is a two year old birthday present from his wife Hedwick and bears his name engraved on the front. Both men politely decline but Hoss decides to smoke. ‘’Stort es sie Reichsführer Himmler?’’ he asks.
‘’As you wish’’ Himmler replies without changing his sullen demeanour. Hoss can feel the tension in the air around them is rising and places his cigarette back carefully into his case. His craving for tobacco has suddenly now diminished. He knows this man, second only in command to Hitler himself, does not put himself in danger of capture by the Russians by being here in person unless this meeting is of the utmost importance. Heinrich Himmler removes his black and gold Schutzstaffel officers cap and runs his hand through his thinning hair before he places it along with his gloves on the table in front of him. The last thing on Hoss’s mind is to be impolite to his guests.
‘’This is my assistant Obersturmbannfuher Werner Grothmann, Himmler gestures moving his hand slightly to his left, and on my right Heinz Macher SS waffen. Grothmann smiles a little but Hoss feels it’s just a respectful motion more for the benefit of his mentor rather than his acknowledgement of his position. He knows Grothmann is a young ambitious man and had moved up through the ranks quite quickly since Joachim Peiper, adjutant to Himmler, suggested his appointment as personal aide de camp. Hoss respected his status but felt a small pang of contempt. other than a short period of combat during the battle of France, this young officer knew little or nothing of the horrors he witnessed here everyday.
Himmler pauses briefly letting the introductions settle. ‘I will not waste your time or mine Rudolf ‘’ he begins, ‘’as you are no doubt aware the Russian army are less than a mile from Krakow. Once we have concluded our business with you we will be travelling to Lubeck were we are meeting with Admiral Karl Donitz who is currently in charge of the Flensburg Government. It is my intention to offer my services as second in command. The situation is grave all over. a week ago Hitler returned to the Reich Chancellery in Berlin. I think its time for all of us to regroup and make some hard choices. I suggest therefore you begin moving those strong enough to work northwest to Gleiwitz. Sub camps Bismarckhuette, Althammer will join them. Those unable to walk must be disposed of quickly, do you understand. We cannot have the allies finding out what went on here. When you have implemented these orders make your way with your family to Lubeck. once there contact Donitz, he will hide you within the navy’s lower ranks.’’
‘’What about my officers, they too will want to know their orders’’ Hoss asks. ‘What is to become of them?’
‘’A few will be transferred to Ravensbruck camp; the others will have to take their chances. This is war commandant, and there will always be casualties. Now our meeting is over.’’
Himmler replaces his cap and gloves then both he and his aides get up and move to the door where he pauses briefly and raises his hand. ‘’Heil Hitler’’ he says before stepping out into a morning that has begun to snow.
Hoss slumps back into his chair just as the door closes and while he lights up the cigarette he earlier put away the sight of his sleeping wife and children warm in their beds when he left them not so long ago flashes into his mind. What will happen to them now he thinks? Will he be able to protect them from the world he has had a hand in creating? Suddenly the cold wind of realization comes over him that he is alone and the Fuher’s once great vision now seems just a fools dream.
06:45 January 24th 1945 Auschwitz concentration camp occupied Poland little wood Fire Pit
Six: Revelation to Liberation
I bent down and picked the gun up from where Adam had dropped it. It still felt warm since he’d shot Brochner in the throat. ‘What shall we do with him?’ one of the men said. ‘And what if the guards come back? Asked the other. my mind was racing. for three years I’d fought to survive. Done all I could not to be noticed, stayed silent while others were murdered around me. Obeying orders without question so I would live, Days ago I had hope as I listened to the fighting in the woods beyond the gates and each night maybe liberty wasn’t far away. Just possibly a few more weeks, a month at most I told myself, you can hang on till then, be like a mouse, silent and covert, keep to the shadows. Now my expectation of freedom felt like the bodies burning on the fire, as though it was going up in smoke. I couldn’t let it be taken away from me, not now. Not after everything I had endured. ‘How much gasoline is in that canister?’ I asked one of the men pointing to a red painted round cylinder sitting on the ground a few yards from the fire pit.
For a moment he looked bemused at my query, wondering why I had asked such a strange question while we all stood over Brochner. ‘I dunno’ he replied shrugging his shoulders. ‘Maybe half full?-we use it to—‘
‘I know it helps to burn the bodies quicker’ I said. ‘Listen to me; two of you grab Brochners arms while the rest of us get his legs, hurry before we are seen’.
‘What are you going to do Abraham?’ Adam said.
I looked towards the fire pit. ‘‘We are going to send this bastard straight to hell’
Seven: The beginning of the End
After throwing Brochner onto the fire, myself, Adam, and the four other men hid in the sauna room. These were small gas chambers designed to exterminate vermin, mainly lice which thrived on the clothes and skins of the prisoners. Vermin was also a term used by Nazi propagandists to describe the Jews. It was easier to kill people seen as insects. it was a way created by the camp officials and theoreticians to consciously desensitise those ordered to commit murder. Ironically the same gas, Zyclon B, was used to kill both humans and insects.
For two days we went without food and water while taking it in turns to stand guard at the window with the gun. A futile exercise I knew because it would be no match for those who carried machine guns. But it gave the men some hope. Because no new trains were arriving there wasn’t any reason for the sauna’s to be used, but I was quietly surprised when no one had come looking for us, let alone Brochner. We did hear shouting and the pitiful cries of women and children screaming. Every now and then a shot would ring out or a blast of automatic gunfire. It sounded like the camp surrounding us was in chaos, yet even with all the confusion we could hear we agreed to stay out of sight.
On the third morning I was wakened from my uneasy sleep by Adam who was trembling with fear. ‘’the others have fled’’ he said. ‘’And they have taken the gun with them, Abraham.’’ Above the sound of his unsteady voice I could hear a barrage of mortars as they whistled overhead then thudding into the ground beyond the outer fencing before exploding. Men where shouting, there was the steady crack, crack, crack of rifles being discharged and the blast of grenades.
‘’We must get into the gas chamber Adam.’’ I said. He looked at me as if I had lost my mind. ‘’You need to trust me, and we must do it now.’’ I grabbed him by his arm and dragged him over to the metal door.
‘’What is happening?’’ he said as I closed it behind us.
‘’It is the beginning of the end’’ I smiled.
Red Army soldiers from the 322nd Rifle Division arrived at Auschwitz on 27 January 1945 at 15:00. Two hundred and thirty-one Red Army soldiers died in the fighting around Birkenau, Auschwitz I, and Monowitz concentration camps as well as the towns surrounding them. About 7,000 prisoners had been left behind, most of whom were seriously ill due to the effects of their imprisonment. Soldiers also found 600 corpses, 370,000 men's suits, 837,000 articles of women's clothing, and seven tonnes (7.7 tons) of human hair. Battle-hardened military that were used to death were shocked by the Nazis' treatment of prisoners.
Oskar Gröning surrendered to the British at the end of the war; his role in the SS was not discovered. He was eventually transferred to Britain as a prisoner of war. Upon his return to Germany, he led a normal life, reluctant to talk about his time in Auschwitz. However, more than 40 years later, he decided to make his activities at Auschwitz public after learning about holocaust denial. Stating he was nothing more than a bookkeeper responsible only for documenting prisoners belongings when they arrived. His statements though proved self incriminating and he was sent to trial in 2015 after being charged as an accessory to the murders of 300,000 Jews. At the age of 93 he was sentenced to four years in prison but died March 9th 2018, while hospitalised before beginning his sentence.
Stefan Baretizki was stationed at the Auschwitz concentration camp. There he participated in mass murder by making selections and beat and murdered prisoners on his own initiative. After the war, Baretzki settled in West Germany. he was the lowest-ranking of the twenty-four defendants in the Frankfurt Auschwitz Trials. His murders were sensationalised in the German press. The court sentenced him to life imprisonment and eight years for participating in the murder of more than 8,000 people. Baretzki regretted his actions, testified against his former superiors, and committed suicide in prison June 1988.
Johann Schwarzhuber was in charge of various sub camps during world war two. During his time in Auschwitz-Birkenau he oversaw the selection process for the gassing of thousands of detainees. He was the highest ranking defendant during the first Ravensbruck trials. In front of the British military tribunal he was indicted for war crimes, and subsequently sentenced to death.
Werner Grothmann- During the last few days of the war in Europe, along with Himmler and Heinz Macher, he travelled from Lubeck to Flensburg where Heinrich Himmler offered his services to the Flensburg Government led my Karl Donitz. Donitz rejected the offer and chose to initiate peace with the advancing allies. Himmler was formally dismissed from all his posts and attempted to go into hiding. Himmler equipped himself with a forged pay book under the name Sergeant Heinrich Hitzinger of the Geheime Feldpolizei (Secret Field Police) which was a mistake since members of this organization were sought after by the liberation forces. Grothmann and Macher were both dressed as army privates. Grothmann, Himmler, and Macher were stopped at a checkpoint, which had been set up by former Soviet POWs, on 21 May and detained. The three men were taken to an Allied Barracks in Luneburg. During a routine interrogation, Himmler admitted who he was, and was then taken to the headquarters of the Second British Army. During an attempted medical examination, Himmler bit into a hidden cyanide pill and died. After which Grothman and Macher were arrested. both denied any knowledge of Operation Reinhard- the code name used for the secretive world war two plans to eradicate polish Jews. Together he and Heinz Macher were denazified after being considered lesser offenders. Grothman died in February26th 2002 and Macher December 21st 2001.
Commandant Rudolf Hoss was executed after being found guilty of mass murder.
Will Neill – Images of Groning, Baretizki, Schwarzhuber, Grothmann, Himmler and Macher can be found on my website: www.willneill.simplesite.com