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auschwitz: inside the nazi state
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Dr. Josef Mengele
Dr. Josef Mengele

Understanding Auschwitz Today:
The Origins of Genocide

April 1943 to March 1944

“Examination of the lockers yielded a fortune in gold, rings, money. The conduct of the SS staff was beyond any of the standards that you’d expect from soldiers. . They gave the impression of being degenerate and brutal parasites.”

– Testimony of Konrad Morgen, Auschwitz Trial, 1964

Although the Nazi leadership was unconcerned about the murder of thousands of people in gas chambers—in Himmler’s eyes that was a sacred duty—they did mind losing goods and money to corrupt guards. In the autumn of 1943, SS Lieutenant Konrad Morgen was sent to Auschwitz to investigate theft, but clever guards found ways to outwit him. The attitude that it was acceptable to profit personally from the Jews was entrenched.

Josef Mengele

Josef Mengele, official portrait

In May 1943 Dr. Josef Mengele, an SS physician, arrived at Auschwitz. Along with other Nazi doctors, he conducted atrocious experiments on women, children, twins, infants, and others. Mengele saw Auschwitz as a human laboratory, one that allowed him to pursue any idea in the name of Nazi science.

Mengele experimented on Eva Mozes Kor and her twin sister Miriam:

Eva Mozes Kor

Eva Mozes Kor

Romanian jewish survivor of Dr. Mengele's experiments

“Mengele came in every morning after roll call to count us. He wanted to know every morning how many guinea pigs he had.

“Three times a week both of my arms would be tied to restrict the blood flow, and they took a lot of blood from my left arm. At the same time they would give me a minimum of five injections into my right arm.

“After one of those injections I became extremely ill and Dr Mengele came in next morning with four other doctors. He looked at my fever chart and he said, laughing sarcastically, he said: ‘Too bad, she is so young. She has only two weeks to live.’ I would fade in and out of consciousness. I would keep telling myself: I must survive. I must survive.”

“Would I have died, my twin sister Miriam would have been rushed immediately to Mengele’s lab, killed with an injection to the heart. Then Mengele would have done the comparative autopsies. That is the way most of the twins died."

Soviet Prisoners

Children survivors display the tattoos they received while imprisoned in Auschwitz

By autumn 1943 resistance against Nazi occupation was growing. In Denmark that resistance included rescue of Jews. With the help of a German diplomat who informed Danish leaders that a roundup of Jews was upcoming, the Danes helped most of their Jewish population flee to safety in Sweden.

Heinrich Himmler, meanwhile, was developing an idea to provide hardworking prisoners with incentives in the camp system. He expressed his thoughts in a letter to Otto Pohl of the SS Economic Division.

“I consider it necessary to provide in the most liberal way hard-working prisoners with women in brothels.”

– Heinrich Himmler, Commander of the SS

letter to Otto Pohl

Heinrich Himmler's letter to the SS Economic Division, which outlined his plan to reward hard-working prisoners with incentives such as access to women.

Pohl, in turn, directed these instructions to commandants such as Rudolf Höss at Auschwitz. Brothel vouchers were to be issued only to prisoners of special value—and certainly not to Jews.

Consequently, Block 24, just beside the main gate of Auschwitz, became a brothel. And prisoners such as Ryszard Dacko, a member of the Auschwitz fire brigade, were given access to it.

Ryszard Dacko

Ryszard Dacko

Polish political prisoner and member
of the Auschwitz fire brigade

“If I wanted to get a voucher, I had to sort things out with an SS-man. And they only gave vouchers to healthy prisoners. They wouldn’t give them to prisoners who were on their last legs. Prisoners who worked as cooks for the SS, as hairdressers for the SS— the special prisoners got those vouchers. I got two vouchers.

“I wanted to cuddle up to her as much as I could, because it was three and a half years since I’d been arrested, three and a half years without a woman.”

The brothel was in operation until January 1945, and though little is known about the women forced to work here, it is believed they were chosen from non-Jewish inmates. The whole subject is one that most prefer not to talk about, but the suffering endured by these women is perhaps one of the least acknowledged aspects of the history of Auschwitz.

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March 1944 to December 1944: Murder & Intrigue