March 1940 to September 1941
Industrialization interested Heinrich Himmler, Commander of the SS. His dream was that IG Farben's activities would fund the creation of a model Nazi settlement where Auschwitz prisoners would work as slave laborers and the SS would profit by selling coal and gravel as well as labor to IG Farben.
Heinrich Himmler (left) inspects a prisoner of war camp in Russia.
Toward the end of 1940, Himmler visited Auschwitz and ordered the camp tripled in capacity from 10,000 to 30,000 prisoners. Auschwitz would be a backwater no longer, it would become the largest concentration camp in the Nazi empire. Over the succeeding months and years, a series of architectural plans were drawn up, detailing even greater expansion of the Nazi vision for Auschwitz.
While Himmler formulated his ideas for a bigger and greater Auschwitz during the spring of 1941, Adolf Hitler completed plans to invade the Soviet Union. Hitler's plans for Russia would in turn cause a radical change in the function of Auschwitz.
Because it was the home of communism, the Nazis feared and despised the Soviet Union. They also believed that Joseph Stalin's Red Army was made up of inferior human beings and would not be hard to defeat.
1st SS Infantry Brigade
They [the Russians] were—in civilisation terms—not as far on as the West. You just have to imagine the following: France—a civilised nation with flushing toilets. Russia—predominantly toilet behind the house.
Germany invaded the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941. Of the three million Soviets troops taken prisoner in the invasion, two million were dead within nine months, either shot, starved, or worked to death.
Jerzy Bielecki, a Polish political prisoner at Auschwitz, watched what happened to the Russian prisoners who were forced to work in gravel pits.
The prisoner overseers beat them mercilessly, kicked them, clubbed them. They would fall to the ground. It was a macabre scene. I had never in my life seen anything like it. Neither did I later on, even though I remained in the camp for a long time after.
I saw an SS-man, a junior officer, walking around the gravel pit with a pistol in his hand. It was sadism. You dogs! You damned communists! You pieces of shit! Horrible words like these. And from time to time he would direct the pistol downwards and shoot: Pow. Pow. Pow. (Jerzy Bielecki).
During an evening roll call, we were told that all the sick among us could go away for treatment. Some people believed it.
Kazimierz Smolen, Polish political prisoner, Auschwitz
Not only the Soviet prisoners of war suffered as the Germans moved east. Hitler did not want to keep alive any prisoners who could not work.
In the autumn of 1939, Hitler authorized a secret Euthanasia Program, which administered so-called mercy deaths first to handicapped children and later to mentally and physically disabled Germans adults. These people were taken to special institutions where they were gassed with carbon monoxide. Himmler wanted to extend this program to concentration camps, including Auschwitz, to eliminate the need to transport people who could not work. He realized that he had to find a better and more efficient way to murder people—psychologically better for the killers, not for the victims.