About the Series Learning Resources
auschwitz: inside the nazi state
Auschwitz 1940-1945 Introduction Surprise Beginnings Orders & Initatives Factories of DeathCorruptionMurder & IntrigueLiberation & Revenge

Killing EvolutionVictims & PerpetratorsGermany & the Camp System



April 1943 to March 1944

Prisoners at forced labor

Prisoners at forced labor building airplane parts at the Siemens factory in the Bobrek labor camp

By 1943 Auschwitz
had grown significantly and now had multiple subcamps,
many of which provided slave labor for armaments factories and other industries, eventually generating millions of Reichsmarks for Nazi Germany. In March new gas chambers and crematoria opened at Auschwitz-Birkenau, dramatically increasing the camp’s killing capacity.

“There was no God in Auschwitz. There were such horrible conditions that God decided not to go there.”

– Libusa Breder, Jewish prisoner, Auschwitz

A few hundred yards from Birkenau’s gas chambers and crematoria was an area of the camp the inmates called "Canada." It was so named because Canada was thought to be a country of great riches. Inmates’ possessions were taken from them upon arrival and brought there. The items were sorted and sent back to Germany, although some were stolen by SS guards.


“Working in Canada saved my life because we had food, we got water. And that was the best working unit for life because we were not beaten,”
– Libusa Breder

Mostly women inmates worked in "Canada," and it was one of the few sought-after jobs in Auschwitz. They could grow their hair out and were able to steal extra food from the belongings as they sorted through them. Also, relationships between German guards and women prisoners sometimes developed in Canada, although such relationships were strictly against SS rules.

Helena Citrónová, a Slovakian Jew deported to Auschwitz in 1942, drew the attention of a SS guard named Franz Wunsch.

Helena Citrónová

Helena Citrónová

Slovakian Jewish survivor

“When he came into the barracks where I was working, he threw me a note. I destroyed it right there and then, but I did see the word 'love’—'I fell in love with you.’

“I thought I’d rather be dead than be involved with an SS man. For a long time afterwards there was just hatred. I couldn’t even look at him.”

Helena’s feelings for Wunsch, however, changed over time, especially when her sister and her sister’s children arrived at Auschwitz Birkenau. Helena learned that they were to be sent to the gas chamber and her SS admirer tried to help them.

A Woman and Children on Their Way to Gas Chamber 4

Jews deemed unfit for work on their way to Gas Chamber 4, Auschwitz-Birkenau

"So he said to me, 'Tell me quickly what your sister’s name is before I’m too late.’ So I said, 'You won’t be able to. She came with two little children.' He replied, 'Children, that’s different. Children can’t live here.’ So he ran to the crematorium and found my sister."

Franz Wunsch was able to save Helena’s sister by saying she worked for him in Canada, but he could do nothing for the children. Helena and her sister survived Auschwitz, and although her relationship with Wunsch never developed further, she did testify on his behalf years later at his war crimes trial.

“If a lot of stuff is piled up together, then you can easily stash away something for your personal gain. Stealing things for yourself was absolutely common practice in Auschwitz.”

– Oskar Gröning

Oskar Gröning

Oskar Gröning (right) was an active member of the camp's sports club

SS guards preferred working at Auschwitz over fighting against the Red Army on the deadly eastern front. Liquor was in ready supply and military discipline was lax. A black market existed for just about everything. Women also served as SS guards; they could be as brutal as the men. Oskar Gröning, an SS guard at Auschwitz, remembers what it was like:

“The main camp of Auschwitz was like a small town, with its gossiping and chatting. There was a grocery, a canteen, a cinema. There was a theatre with regular performances. And there was a sports club of which I was a member. It was all fun and entertainment, just like a small town.


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