One of the worst moments in the history of our world is when Adolf Hitler came to power. His terrifying reign in Germany during and shortly after the Second World War brought on nothing else but misery, grief, and a community which had now been greatly reduced. Hitler was known for his passionate dislike of Jewish people, (anti-Semitism). In vicious, inhumane ways, Hitler proceeded to torture, experiment on, and exterminate Jews. It was not only Jews however which Hitler wanted to eliminate; he also pursued gypsies and homosexuals. This tyrant used “living space” and the desire for a “good” nation of pure Germans as an excuse to satisfy his cruel beliefs and issues with these people. Throughout the course of the war, Hitler sent Jews to concentration camps. These camps where either labour camps, or death camps. Jews received “special” treatment, and where acknowledged as different from the rest of the society. But Hitler had no mercy; he had it established that the Jews would all be annihilated.
Concentration camps were places where the Jews or enemies of Nazism were sent. After having been separated and forced to live in ghettos, they were sent off, on long train journeys, without knowing their destination, nor for how long they would be in these trains. People were known to get hysterical, scream that they were going to die, or die inside these trains. The trains were composed of tiny wagons, and each wagon was overloaded with people. There was no place to breath, let alone sit down. They had been told that they were going to be “resettled” in another ghetto, but little did they know what Hitler meant by “resettlement”. There was occasionally a little air hole or window through which the night sky could be observed. The train rides were anywhere from a few hours to a few days long, but the passengers were not told this, and therefore did not know how to prepare for these trips. A strange smell filled the air as the travellers approached their final destinations, it was the smell of something which was burning, it was the smell of human flesh.
Jews were separated into “groups” for these camps. If they were healthy, young, and capable, they would be sent to a labour camp. The purpose of these labour camps was to work the prisoners to death, whilst taking advantage of their last strengths to build more camps or other necessities that Hitler demanded. If the poor Jews were weak, handicapped, elderly, or babies, they were sent to a death camp. These camps had one sole purpose; to kill. Inside these death camps, Jews were tortured as well as put through repulsive medical experimentations. Both types of camps contained both the notorious gas chambers, as well as crematoriums. The prisoners in death camps were sent there everyday, and the labour prisoners were sent there for disobeying or for no longer being physically capable of working due to the bad hygiene and feeding conditions.
The most infamous concentration camps, with the most torture and death counts were Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Dachau, Mauthasen, and Treblinka. It is absolutely impossible to explain a level of pain as strong as that experienced by Jews in these camps. All that can be explained is just a mere generalization, or a very small percentage of what people went through. Survivors, which are now very few, still have trouble describing the camps as they were when they were in them. The grief and the trauma in their experience will haunt them forever.
The most known of all camps was Auschwitz, the death camp. The first of the two parts was built in 1940. It was so notorious because out of the total of six million prisoners which were killed during the war, approximately two million died in Auschwitz. When prisoners arrived at a camp, they were separated. Men on one side, and women and children on the other. Then, they were stripped from their clothes and all personal belongings and made to stand in rows. They were shaved, and either tattooed with numbers or forced to wear tags to identify them. The point of this was to make them feel like they were no longer human beings, but just like rats in a maze which led not to a piece of cheese, but to a piece of death. In this camp, like most other camps, they were sent to gas chambers with Zyklon-B, a gas whose effect is the same as carbon monoxide, it has no odour, but it leads to death by suffocation and intoxication. The chambers were made to look like shower rooms, and the prisoners were first sprayed with ice cold water and then the gas was released. There were no windows in these chambers. However, there was a small peephole, resembling those on hotel doors. On the side outside of the chamber, the hole was covered with glass, so that the Nazis could observe the process. On the inside, the hole was covered with a special screen, to that the victims could not break the glass. Once they were in, there was no way out. The Nazis made sure that nothing would ever happen in order to give them a chance to survive.
If they were not sent to gas chambers, the Jews were burned, sometimes dead, sometimes alive. The main reason as to why this crematory was created was because the camps were running out of places to dispose of the bodies. At first, they were placed in mass graves, which were large holes in the ground where the bony, disfigured bodies were dumped. However, these took up too much space. Therefore, Hitler made an addition to his horror camps; crematoriums. These large buildings had a huge tunnel pertruding from the top, and every hour or so, sparks and fumes would erupt from them, then the disgusting smell would spread throughout the camp.
Every camp was different from the other, however, Auschwitz was very distinct from the others. In other camps, the SS, Hitler’s army, were the ones in charge of killing the prisoners. But in Auschwitz, it was Jewish prisoners, considered the “lucky ones” who had to kill their own comrades in the crematories. Hitler also requested that these “lucky” prisoners be forced to burn their relatives as well, if they were in the same camp. It is unbearable to imagine the emotions which one must feel, being demanded to kill their own family.
The next notorious camp on the list was Buchenwald. Buchenwald was created in 1937, in Weimar. This camp was smaller, and also much “cleaner” than the others. Here, the total known death count was of 56 thousand. It was a labour camp, overworking the prisoners to death, although many others died due to the conditions within the camp, starvation, and lack of hygiene. Few prisoners ever committed suicide, because of their strong faith. Therefore, they went through extreme horror, without ever losing their faith, although they knew their time was approaching. Buchenwald was built in two years, by five hundred of Germany’s prisoners.
In March of 1933, Dachau had been opened. It was a death camp, for a different group of people. This camp was made for political prisoners such as Communists or Social Democrats who were considered as “threats to the state”. In this camp, the total amount of deaths was unsure. The major problem with this camp was the disposal of the bodies, which on average would reach up to 4,176 within 24 hours. The mass graves, containing from 300 to 400 people were taking up too much space, and so the process of cremation began there. It was very common in this camp.
The skin of the Jewish people was peeled off before they were burned, and their skin was used for items such as lamp shades for Hitler and his officers. These lamps did not last very long, as the smell of decomposing skin is not an enjoyable smell to have in a household or office. This proves to which extent Hitler was becoming crazy over these exterminations, and to what point he needed to demoralize his victims.
In 1938, by the Danube river, Mauthasen was initiated. This occurred right after Austria was annexed to Germany. It was for all European “anti-nazis”. There, prisoners, and especially the Soviets, were labelled as “Ruckkenr- unerwnscht”, meaning “return undesired”. They were beaten, starved and experimented on. For example, they were placed in special pilot suits, then held down in a tube of water in order to see how long they could sustain these conditions in different types of suits. They were also put into pressure rooms, amputated and injected with diseases to see how they would react.
Another camp, as known as Auschwitz was Treblinka. This camp, unlike the others, was in Poland, between the villages of Siedice and Malkinia. It was first built in December of 1941, and the second part in July of 1942. In the first building, Jews made weapons for the Germans in the war, therefore, it was another labour camp. The second part was, of course, a death camp. Upon arrival at Treblinka II, Jews and gypsies were stripped of clothes and belongings, separated by sex, and gassed to death. The SS were not the ones in charge of the chambers either, instead, Nazi-hired men had that role. They had to collect such things as gold teeth from the bodies, and remove the corpses from the chambers. In this camp, prisoners tried to revolt, but greatly failed, and received further punishments. Close to another two million prisoners were killed. When the war was over, no more than 90 people were found alive, alive, but barely.
Finally, World War II was over, putting an end to of Hitler’s hell. However, so many were dead, and the few that remained would forever be scarred. When the American troops came to release the prisoners, what they found was disgusting. Many Nazi’s ran away, and blew up the camps, in an attempt to cover up the horrors which had occurred within the barb wired walls. Seeing television interviews, or reading accounts from the survivors can bring tears to anyone’s eyes. Some still feel as though they were being pursued, others cannot bring themselves to talk about their experiences and their losses. Simply look at the camp pictures, or look directly into the eyes of the people. Then, you can see their story, and feel their pain.
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