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

Killing EvolutionVictims & PerpetratorsGermany & the Camp System

Orders and Initiatives


September 1941 to March 1942

Jews classified as “not fit for work”

Jews classified as "not fit for work" unknowingly wait in a grove before being executed

In his memoirs, Rudolf Höss wrote of the murders that took place that spring of 1942:

"It was most important that the whole business of arriving and undressing should take place in an atmosphere of the greatest possible calm."

“Hundreds of men and women in the full bloom of life walked all unsuspecting to their death in the gas chambers under the blossom-laden fruit trees of the orchard. This picture of death in the midst of life remains with me to this day. I looked upon them as enemies of our people. The reasons behind the Extermination Program seemed to me right.”

– Memoirs of Rudolf Höss, Commandant of Auschwitz

To deal with the mounting number of bodies, the SS enlisted Jewish prisoners to load them onto hand trucks and wheel them down a makeshift railway line towards giant pits dug behind the cottages. Otto Pressburger was one of the prisoners forced to help.

Otto Pressburger

Otto Pressburger

Jewish prisoner and Sonderkommando at Auschwitz

“We were digging holes. We really didn’t know what they were for. It was only when the holes were deep enough that we started to throw the bodies into them. It was appalling. New bodies were lying here every morning and we had to bury them. When summer came everything started to rot.”

“It was terrible. The majority of the people working here were from my home city of Trnava. I knew all of them and every day there were less and less of them. They must still be buried around here somewhere. My brother and my father are buried here as well, you know.”

Large-scale gas chamber

Large-scale gas chamber (graphic reconstruction)

By the summer of 1942, Höss and the SS at Auschwitz were murdering thousands of Jews, but their improvised methods could not keep pace with the demands of the "Final Solution." Faced with the task of eliminating ever-larger numbers of people, they would overcome all obstacles.

Facilities were created where murder could be committed on an even larger scale.

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Mar. 1942 to Mar. 1943: Factories of Death