9 Chapter 3
Life in Auschwitz
Auschwitz was a network of concentration camps and extermination camps built and operated by the Third Reich in Polish areas during World War II. It was first built to hold Polish political prisoners who began to arrive in 1940. As they arrived, families were disembarked together and brutally split up as a Nazi doctor ordered each one to create one of two lines.
"Split into two straight lines. Young and strong men to the right and, to the left, women, children, and older men who are too weak and unfit to work," a Nazi doctor ordered.
"Where do we lead these young men on the right?" asked a Nazi Kapo.
"Where else but to the labor camp?" he replied.
"But first, before you proceed, you should know the stages. Lead these people to the camp, strip them off their personal belongings, and have their hair cut and their heads shaved. Then, give each one of them striped prison outfits and a pair of shoes. However, there is a huge pile of shoes there that are not paired according to their sizes. Let them find the right pair that will fit their feet," the doctor continued.
After they were dressed up with striped prison outfits, the prisoners fell into line and, in an orderly fashion, they walked toward the registration booth of the camp. Then, they had their arms tattooed with a number, and were transferred to one of Auschwitz's camps for forced labor.
The newcomers were then thrown into cruel, hard labor, terrible world of camp life. Schrobber, being strong and young, was able to carry on the forced labor trying to trick the guards in the camp.
After the first week at Auschwitz, the newcomers would find out the doomed fate of their loved ones that were lined up on the left. Consequently, some of them never recovered at all.
"Where are we going?" asked an old man.
"I don't know. All I know is that they wanted us cleansed and disinfected. Let's just follow what the Kapo says," another old man replied.
Later, the Kapo gave instructions. "All right, everybody, strip! All males, to the shower room, all females to the other and, those with children, hold them tight to the shower room! Now!" the Kapo shouted.
"Where do we go after the shower? one elderly inmate curiously asked.
"Well, you will go to a workplace, but you have to be disinfected first," the Kapo added.
They were led to a large room that looked like a large shower room with fake shower heads on its walls. Apparently, they were all hesitant to take the shower, but they slowly proceeded, as ordered by the Kapos, who ushered them to the ante-room. The Kapo suddenly shut the doors of the chambers.
The prisoners sensed that something went wrong.
"They abruptly shut the door? Look, up on the roof! They have extended a host of gas smoke!" one middle-aged woman exclaimed.
Then, everyone became panicked and began shouting for help as the billows of smoke became thicker and engulfed them to death. Women held their children tight as they could, slowly fell holding their neck and mouth grasping for air and died. It was instant, and they were killed quickly.
Upon realizing that it was not a shower room, victims crawled over each other, struggling to breathe fresh-clean air.
Others would scrape the doors until their fingers bled.
Some elderly even exclaimed, "You murderers, you tricked us!"
Some even clanged between an open space of the door and scratched the walls with their fingernails, but it was no use, and they all and got asphyxiated to death.
The people on the right would be prisoners of the camp, and most would later die from starvation, exposure, forced labor, and torture. A group of prisoners would be selected for assigned tasks.
"You, what's your name?" the Kapo asked.
"Ariel Schrobber," he replied.
"Join the selected few in the train to gather up all the personal belongings that have been left by your co-inmates. Sort them from the huge piles and store them inside the warehouses," he continued.
Inside, the train appeared before them; different personal belongings were left behind by the prisoners. The items included; clothing, eyeglasses, medicine, shoes, books, pictures, jewelry, and prayer shawls, which would be packed and shipped back to Germany.
Schrobber tried to introduce himself to an SS officer who looked friendly and approachable.
"Really, you were once a Panzer operator but were dismissed because you are Jewish?" an SS Officer asked.
"Exactly. It so happened that it was a Fuhrer's order, but I still believe that not all regions enforced the same policy," Schrobber replied.
"Just make it good and come what may. Come, and I will make you a Kapo in consideration of your being a German serviceman," the officer said.
"Thank you," he replied.
Schrobber was led inside a camp of Auschwitz 1 and saw the horrible situation of the inmates.
"This is a prison within the prison, where law violators pay for their rebellious acts, or disobedience. This will be one of your assignments here. I will leave you and proceed to your duty," the SS officer said.
Schrobber began to roam around and checked the inmates in their daily activity. He observed and talked with other kapos, implementing the rules and carrying out their duties.
During the night, Schrobber was assigned to oversee inmates in their sleep and likewise, see that nothing unusual was happening.
"What's going on inside there?" Schrobber asked as he tried to extend his face in-between a narrow window of the cells.
"We're making our way on how four persons could all sleep at the same time in a 1.5 square-meter-size floor area. But we could do nothing but to sleep standing, overnight, until we see another day along others doing a hard labor," one inmate lamented.
"That's around sixteen square foot size of an area. Holding four persons? That's a terrible punishment," Schrobber hissed. He made another ten steps to the next cell and tried to visualize the dark room through its palm-sized opening at the door.
"Anybody home? Is anyone there?" he whispered.
"Yes, we are here," an exhausted inmate answered in a low tone.
"What happened? What's up?" he asked.
"We've been here for two days now for attempting to escape. We are given no food, nor water, as we are destined to die from starvation, and dehydration," an inmate added.
In his compassion and sympathy, Schrobber sneaked a tiny canteen of water, just enough as the size of the tiny opening at the door would allow to wet their lips and tongue.
Later, he went down the staircase made of stone that led him beneath to another dark cell. But he came across another Kapo.
"What's the rush?" Schrobber asked.
"All the prisoners confined in those closed cells have expired," the Kapo replied.
"What's the cause?" he asked.
"Suffocation. They have used up all the oxygen in the cell," he added.
"Wait a minute. Tell me some more reasons why inmates die soon, as they should not," Schrobber curiously said.
"I know you, Schrobber. You were dismissed because you're of Jewish heritage."
"Yes. Now I know you, Lubrecht. An SS from Austrian German Command," he said.
"Why do you have to know more? Are you affected? Do you have sympathy with those bastards? You should remember that you are tasked to check the inmates, day and night, and nothing other than that!" the Kapo exclaimed.
"You must remember that you are also human being who is tasked, whether they're still alive, or dead. Thus, you must account for them otherwise. When the war is over, everyone will be subject to war crime," Schrobber insinuated.
The Kapo paused and looked at him, "All right, for the sake of argument, sometimes a candle is lit by other SS in the cell to consume the oxygen faster than the inmates inhaled it all. Sometimes, to see their death in a cruel manner, SS hang them with their hands behind their backs for hours, thus dislocating their shoulder joints. Then, they die," he explained.
They continued talking about the methods of torture the Nazi employed to the prisoners within the camp. In order to get even more information from the Co-Kapo, Schrobber talked in a friendly and persuasive tone.
"You are ahead of me as Kapo. How's your life here?" he asked.
"Being a Kapo, or head of the block, we are housed near the entrance door where two rooms are situated. We are well-fed here. You, too, are housed in the opposite zone and treated well. It's good you're given a chance," Lubrecht added.
"I should have been dead by now, had it not been for a comrade. How about the incoming inmates, where are they housed?" he asked.
"When selection has been done for prisoners for work, they are housed in wooden, or brick, barracks. Brick barracks are constructed in autumn of 1941. The Nazi intended the barracks to house forty prisoners but, very often, more than 700 would be placed in each of them. Hence, the total number of prisoners to each barrack depends on the number of transports arriving. They sleep in sixty spaces with three bunks in each space.
"The barracks have earth floors, and few sanitary facilities. Each barrack has two stoves with a brick heating flue running between them. However, fuel is not provided. As a result, many prisoners die during the extreme cold of the Polish winters. The barracks had once been stables where walls are thin and have gaps at the bottom and top which let in the bitterly cold wind.
"However, barracks have no windows but, instead, have a row of skylights at the top of the roof. Each block has wooden three-tiered bunks where prisoners slept under thin blankets or rags on mattresses," Lubrecht continued.
"I learned about the extreme sufferings of the inmates. How is it hidden from visiting delegations?" Schrobber asked.
As they continuously tackled the issue of the prisoners' life in the camp, more issues were being brought out confidently by the Kapo.
"To tell you honestly, our commanding officers have asked us to make the pleasant and orderly sight be visible to the visiting delegations. But, behind this concealment, is the horrible scenario," Lubrecht continued.
"Like, for example, what?" Schrobber asked.
"You know, I am telling you this, not because you are also a Kapo, but I fear that, in every war, there is victory, and there is defeat. There is end in this war and I fear that, in the event the Third Reich falls, everyone will be held accountable for what he has done," he said.
"I know, and it is realistic," Schrobber said.
"The barracks are swarmed with various sorts of vermin and rats. Dampness, leaky roofs, and the fouling of straw and straw mattresses by the prisoners who are suffering from diarrhea that makes their living conditions miserable. It was aggravated by a constant shortage of water for laundry, or washing, and the lack of suitable sanitary facilities," he said.
"That's so pathetic," Schrobber sighed.
"I can't blame you for having sympathy with them because they are also your people. But this is the life you and your people should face in this planet," Lubrecht stated.
"How about their meals? Do others eat the same meal in the entire camp?" he continued.
"Meals received by prisoners are three times a day, which include food with nutritional value that has been an official norm in the Nazi concentration camps. Prisoners with less physical demanding labor assignments receive approximately 1,300 calories a day, while those engaged in hard labor received approximately 1,700.
"But most prisoners began to suffer from organic deterioration after several weeks on such starvation rations in the camp, which causes extreme physical exhaustion that even leads to death," Lubrecht explained.
The following morning, at 4:30 a.m., Lubrecht made a roll call for prisoners, which usually lasted for four hours.
"All right, keep moving, and make a row of five with a straight line," Lubrecht commanded.
The prisoners stayed outdoors, in a straight-line formation, until the SS officers arrived. However, the guards would ask the prisoners to squat for an hour with their hands above their heads, or levy punishments, such as beatings, or detention, for infractions such as having a missing button, or an improperly cleaned food bowl.
They were counted, and re-counted, as it was described how even the dead had to be present at roll call, standing by the support of their fellow inmates until the ordeal was over.
In the evening, a second roll call took place to determine if a prisoner was missing, hence, others had to remain standing until he was found and known the reason of his absence, regardless of the weather conditions, and even if it took hours.
Individual and collective punishments were convened, depending on what transpired during the day, before the prisoners were allowed to retire to their place for the night and get their bread allotment and water. Curfew was imposed two to three hours later. The prisoners slept in long rows of wooden bunks, lying in, and on, their clothes and shoes to prevent them from being stolen.
Again, Schrobber made his routine check with a throng of prisoners crowding each barrack as they crammed into the compartments that were fully-packed. So, as a result of a thousand people distributed in each barrack, they were unable to get a good sleep.
"What's wrong with you people there?" he asked.
"We find it hard to stretch out completely, as they are all lying both lengthwise and crosswise with one man's feet on another's head, neck, or chest. We are stripped of all human dignity by this kind of treatment," an elder prisoner complained.
"We can't do anything for now," he said.
"See what others are doing. They shove and kick each other in an effort to get a few more inches' space on which to sleep a little more comfortably," an inmate added.
Schrobber stepped away and saw the prisoners in their identity outfit. He approached a Kapo in-charge of the prisoners who were sewing the cloth.
"What are these pieces of cloths sewn for?" he asked.
"This is to distinguish one prisoner to the others. We sew triangular pieces of cloth into their jackets below their number called, Winkel," a Kapo explained.
"How about the others? What are they for?" he continued.
"Red triangle is for political prisoners, while purple color is for Jehovah's Witnesses, and green is for criminals and so on and so forth," a Kapo added.
"In addition, the nationality of prisoners is also stitched into the Winkel. Likewise, yellow triangle is for the Jews," he said.
"As I see them from here, Soviet prisoners of war, and others, have their numbers tattooed on their chest and other civilians on their left arm," Schrobber said.
"Exactly, it will practically identify and locate certain prisoners," the Kapo replied.
"By the way, how is the daily sustenance of the inmates?" Schrobber asked.
"Prisoners learn the kind of life to live in this camp. In the morning, prisoners receive a hot drink, but no breakfast. While, at noon, they got a thin, meatless vegetable soup. Likewise, in the evening, they receive a moldy bread as ration, and most prisoners saved some of the bread for the following morning. Prisoners who were subjected to endure medical experimentation were better fed and clothed," a Kapo explained.
"I am saddened by the sanitary and hygiene situation of the inmates. How do they take their everyday struggle in their sanitation? I learned that many children have died of Noma, a bacterial infection common among gypsies in the camps. Malnourished children are mostly inflicted with this bacterial infection," Schrobber lamented.
"There were poor sanitary facilities and inadequate latrines and fresh water here. It was only in 1943 when latrines were installed after two years when camp construction began. Pests, such as disease-carrying lice and the vermin, are all around the camps, as inmates are inflicted with typhus and other contagious diseases," a Kapo sighed.
Schrobber was once among the prisoners of war who had experienced the same condition that the inmates were struggling for.
One day, he was approached by a Waffen SS who had a file of documents in his leather case.
"Ariel Scrobber, you are being relieved of your status as Kapo of the camp by General Hubert Becker, the commandant of the 2nd Panzer Division of the Nazi regiment. After a careful review of your personal record, it was found that you had served in the German Panzer Regiment as tank commander. You are hereby given a chance to re-enlist in the German Panzer Division in Western Poland, provided you will take a full oath of allegiance or loyalty to the Nazi government. Would that be amenable to you?" the Adjutant asked.
"Yes, it would," Schrobber replied in a low voice.
Shortly after, Schrobber was well-fed and clothed with a neat-black Wehrmacht Panzer wool uniform and, after twenty days of orientation and training, he was dispatched to the German Military field detachment in Warsaw for the battlefield.