This greyscale image depicts a Soviet POW block at Auschwitz I labour camp, Stanisławy Leszczyńskiej 11, 32-600 Oświęcim, Poland. An electrified fence surrounds the block.
Construction of Auschwitz I began in May 1940 in the Zasole suburb of Oswiecim, in artillery barracks formerly used by the Polish army. The camp was continuously expanded through the use of forced labour. On the 20th of May 1940, Auschwitz I was officially opened by the Nazi regime.
Around 1,000 m long and 400 m wide, Auschwitz consisted of 22 brick buildings, eight of which were two-story. A second story was added to the others in 1943, and eight new blocks were built.
The Germans began sending Soviet POWs to Auschwitz shortly after the beginning of their war against the Soviet Union (June 22, 1941). According to prisoner accounts, these transports were already appearing in Auschwitz in July. At first, the arriving POWs were usually executed in the gravel pits near the camp by shooting.
One such group of about 600 Soviet POWs was brought to Auschwitz in the first days of September 1941 and taken to the cellars of block 11. About 250 Polish prisoners selected from the camp hospital were also taken there, after which SS men in gas masks dumped Zyklon B in the cellar rooms, causing the POWs and prisoners’ deaths in two days. This was the largest group to be murdered during the tests of Zyklon B, which was used later in the mass extermination of the Jews.
In mid-September, the barbed wire separated nine blocks near the main gate from the rest of the camp. A gate was built between blocks 24 and 14, with a sign reading Russisches Kriegsgefangenen Arbeitslager [Russian POW Labour Camp]. About 10 thousand Soviet POWs were brought here in October.
They were treated exceptionally brutally. Immediately after arriving, they had to strip naked near the railroad platform and immerse themselves in kettles of disinfection fluid before running naked to the camp. The fall of 1941 was exceptionally cold, with frequent snow. It took a long time to count the prisoners and only afterwards were they allowed to enter the blocks. Several days passed before they received clothing, and they also had to wait to be given camp blankets.
Soviet POWs were the first prisoners in Auschwitz to be tattooed with numbers.
Block 11 was considered the most harrowing of them all, where POWs, mostly Jews, Soviets and Poles, were used for medical experiments. In addition, torture and executions were standard practices here too.
Image size: 2670×3772
File size: 2.8MB
Bit: 24 bit
Property/model release: No
Edited: Yes. Adobe Lightroom CC
Location: Auschwitz II-Birkenau, Poland.
Year took: 2020
Copyright owner: J. J. Williamson