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A Nazi Describes Auschwitz-Birkenau

In his testimony at the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials in 1946, Rudolf Hoess (1900-1947), warden of Auschwitz, the largest of the Nazi death camps, describes the way the killing process worked. Jews made up the overwhelming majority of those put to death at Auschwitz. Other victims included Gypsies, political prisoners, and Polish slave laborers.

I estimate that at least 2,500,000 victims were executed and exterminated [at Auschwitz] by gassing and burning, and at least another half million succumbed to starvation and disease, making a total dead of about 3,000,000. This figure represents about 70 per cent or 80 per cent of all persons sent to Auschwitz as prisoners, the remainder having been selected and used for slave labor in the concentration camp industries. . . .

The "final solution" of the Jewish question meant the complete extermination of all Jews in Europe. I was ordered to establish extermination facilities at Auschwitz in June, 1941. . . .

It took from three to fifteen minutes to kill people in the death chamber, depending upon climactic conditions. We knew when the people were dead because their screaming stopped. We usually waited about one-half hour before we opened the doors and removed the bodies. After the bodies were removed our special commandos took off the rings and extracted the gold from the teeth of the corpses. . . .

The way we selected our victims was as follows. . . . Those who were fit to work were sent into camp. Others were sent immediately to the extermination plants. Children of tender years were invariably exterminated since by reason of their youth they were unable to work. . . .

We endeavored to fool the victims into thinking that they were to go through a delousing process. Of course, frequently they realized our true intentions, and we sometimes had riots and difficulties due to that fact. Very frequently women would hide their children under clothes, but of course when we found them we would send the children to be exterminated.