WRB: The Extermination Camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau (1944)

The Pittsburgh Press (November 26, 1944)

Witnesses report –
‘Jews gassed and burned – as usual’

1,765,000 reported ‘exterminated’

Washington (UP) – (Nov. 25)
“Those remaining, about 3,000, were immediately gassed and burned in the usual manner.”

This line, varying only slightly, runs like a refrain through first-hand reports released tonight by the War Refugee Board of life and death inside the German “extermination camps” of Auschwitz and Birkenau.

The reports were written by two Slovakian Jews and a Polish major who escaped. They estimate that about 1,765,000 Jewish prisoners were gassed at Birkenau from April 1942 to April 1944.

Both camps are in southwestern Poland. Although Birkenau was the main slaughterhouse, Auschwitz produced its share of murders, too. Jews generally were gassed. Some were killed with injections of phenol in the heart. Non-Jews usually were shot.

Experimented with bodies

Theoretically, only the aged, weak and ill were murdered. Those able to work were permitted to work – until they became ill.

Jews from all over enslaved Europe were transported to the two extermination camps. The Polish major described a “hygiene institute” where German doctors performed biological experiments with “male and female prisoners, especially Jews.”

The major’s report said:

Here, sterilizing by X-ray treatment, artificial insemination of women, as well as experiments on blood transfusion were carried on.

‘Showers of death’

At first, those “selected” for death were taken to Birkenau and gassed and buried in a nearby forest. They were packed into rooms under the impression they were to be given shower baths en masse. The rooms then were sealed, and SS men threw hydrocyanic bombs through ventilation openings.

It soon became necessary, in order to kill efficiently, to construct special gassing chambers and crematoria. A new way of gassing was developed. The shower bath fiction was continued, with “selectees” jammed into the rooms naked and guards shooting off guns to frighten the doomed persons into huddling closer together. Then the doors were sealed.

‘Do not forget – Revenge’

The report continues:

Then there is a short pause, presumably to allow the room temperature to rise to a certain level, after which SS men with gas masks climb on the roof, open the traps, and shake down a preparation in powder form out of tin cans labeled “Cyklon – for use against vermin,” which is manufactured by a Hamburg concern.

After three minutes, everyone in the chamber is dead.

The ashes were used for fertilizer, it was said.

Whenever the trucks drew up before the infirmary, those summoned to get in them knew at once where they were going.

The Polish major reported:

Most of them were quiet and bid us farewell, but never forgot to remind us: “Do not forget – Revenge.”