Soviet prisoners in the SS Auschwitz

Crematorium №1 (present-day view)/
Photo. E. Rogova’s personal archive
Camp commandant Rudolf Höss during his trial in Warsaw. March 1947

From the memoirs of Rudolf Höss

«The first case of killing people with gas did not register much in my mind… I remember much better the killing of 900 Russians… in the old crematorium… the Russians were told to get undressed in the corridor, and then they completely quietly entered the morgue, because they were told that they had to go through disinfection. The morgue had just enough room for that many people. As soon as they all entered, the door was locked and through the holes in the ceiling the gas was poured in… Only several hours later the room was unlocked and ventilated. That was the first time I saw so many dead bodies killed by the gas… I felt ill at ease – I was horror-stricken… At that moment I did not reflect on the killing of the Soviet prisoners of war. I was given an order and I was obliged to carry it out.»

(Quote: ‘Auschwitz through the lens of SS’. Oswiecim. 2008 P. 63–64)
Zyklon B can. (Photo. The Central Museum of the Great Patriotic War)
Rapportführer Hauptscharführer SS Gerhard Palitzsch. On 4 September 1941, Rapportführer SS G. Palitzsch, wearing a gas mask, opened the door to the bunkers and found a few victims still alive. They put in another dose of Zyklon B and locked the door again.
The Archives of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum)

Witness testimony … about the use of Zyklon B on Soviet prisoners of war,
about the attitude toward Soviet prisoners of war who were deported to the camp
in October-November 1941


Document translation

Staying in prisons

August 21, 1940. Unusual guest who are unfamiliar to us have arrived at Gorlice. They stood guard at various points throughout the streets, and even at the gates. They checked every passerby, especially young men – they let some go, and took others to the city government building, These unknown men were the Gestapo from Jaslo, who have already perfected this method of trapping people in Jaslo.

At about 9 o'clock in the morning, a city policeman came to my house and ordered me to immediately go to the city building. When I asked why I had to go, he declined to answer. I didn't suspect anything bad, so I said goodbye to my family and went to the city building. I spotted a man I did not know by the gates. As the man who escorted me there explained to me, he was Gestapo. He demanded a pass and, after examining it carefully, he kept the pass and, looking at me sternly, ordered me to enter the building, There was another man I did not know in the hallway, who rudely pushed me into the chancery room, which housed the city resident passport table. There were already 30 people from Gorlice in the small room (6X4 in size). I could see that they were concerned. They are nervous, and some were asking each other why they have been brought here. I find out that the city police ordered that I and the prelate Litvin Kazimezh be brought here, and the rest of the men were stopped on the street. The numbers grew constantly, because the Gestapo worked constantly and brought more and more men to us. The hallway soon also filled up with people who had been arrested. The room was cramped and stuffy. It seemed that we would all pass out at any moment, and we were not allowed to open the windows.

…regarding “let's love each other.” This was the theme purposefully selected for Wierzbica. In my speech, I let him know several times that my words are directed toward him personally. I was afraid he would take issue with me, but he didn’t touch me.

After the start of the war between the USSR and Germany on June 22, 1941, there was great joy in the camp. We were happy because we were convinced that the Germans will not be able to defeat the Red Army and the Germans will surely fail. Captured peoples will take advantage of this, take up arms and seek revenge. This is how we imagined things would be at the camp.

We were deeply disappointed and depressed when we received news of Germany’s success. However, since we were convinced that victory will be on the side of the just, we optimists (and I considered myself to be one) never believed that Germany would win. We believed that these wild Huns of the 10th century who are destroying Europe by torturing, killing and burning everything will get what is coming to them. There should not be a place for them in Europe. The wild Congo, yellow fever and mosquitos – this should be the lot of these killers.

In the very beginning of October, Red Army prisoners began to arrive at our camp. The first shipment was about 500 people, which included women and children. A horrible fate awaited them.

They were placed in block No.11, which was next to our block (10). The windows of our block were boarded up so that we couldn’t see what happened to these doomed people. Another 200 sick people from the hospital were also placed with them. We watched what happened to these people with horror, and there were a lot of rumors about it. We know that people who were placed in block 11 would never come out. We didn’t have to wait long. That same night, we spotted an SS man enter the block, wearing a gas mask. Two days later, block 11 went quiet. Nobody went in, and nobody went out. We now understood what happened to these people. All of the Red Army prisoners, along with about 200 sick people, died of gas poisoning.

Since I know the history of the camp and took an active interest in all that happened there, I will say that this was the first time gas was used on the Auschwitz territory.

Two days, later, the block was opened and trucks took the bodies away at night. This required the help of civilian (hired) workers, who were then executed in order to cover up the evidence.

In November 1941, Red Army prisoners started being shipped to the camp on a regular basis. They were treated very poorly. The guards caved their heads in with rifles and broke their ribs. Every SS offices made it his duty to mock these people. They never went to war themselves, but still were after the blood of these innocent people. I witnessed these horrors and the words I’m writing down are not fantasies, but facts. Soviet prisoners of war were sent to the Entresungskammer after they were shipped in – a disinfection facility that was about 1.5 km away from the camp. Every prisoner undressed and got a haircut, was shaved and washed. All of this took place in the open air, and afterwards the prisoners were held until night time and at night, in the dark, when the camp was asleep, the prisoners would be taken naked to block No.11. They waited here until morning to be assigned to blocks. Since this took place in November, words cannot describe what was happening to these people. We would hear moaning and crying all night.

Every prisoner, regardless of health, had to work. After being washed in cold water and working in the open air regardless of health conditions and poor nutrition, the consequences didn’t take long to materialize. The death rate was very high. The sick were beaten at work and only the corpses came back to the camp afterwards. During cold and rainy days, which there was a lot of in November, the death rate was higher, but the same cars and trucks were used to transport the corpses. I remember that one day there were over 300 corpses.

When I was coming back to the D.A.W. from work, I witnessed the following picture. The truck was piled with two dozen war prisoners. One of them, it was obvious, was summoning his last strength to lift up his head. An SS officer ran up and hit him as hard as he could with the back of his rifle, caving his scull in. Because there was such a large number of dead people, the crematorium couldn’t burn bodies fast enough. They were stored in the basements of blocks 3 and 6. The was horrible to witness, when they would unload bodies from the trucks. Usually, they would lift up the floor boards and the corpses would fall to the ground like logs. Then they would be dragged by the feet to the basement, and thrown in through the window.

About 1,000 more Red Army POWs arrived in Auschwitz in October and November of 1941, and only 300 survived until the evacuation.

Every night, we witnessed out dead colleagues being carried to the crematorium. At first the corpses were carried in caskets, and then the same caskets would be used to take the next round of corpses. As the number of dead people increased, the corpses started to be carried on a platform made out of a funeral hearse obtained from the Auschwitz funeral home. After some time, the caskets became worn out, no new ones were made, and the dead were carried on trucks with high sides. Several corpses would be loaded on such trucks, and covered with a tarpaulin. They were transported like carcasses from the slaughterhouse. When a truck like this came out of block 11, there was a trail of blood after it, coming out of the corpses of people who had been executed. Nobody grieved for these people, nobody felt bad for them. Death would take them today, and would be coming for us tomorrow. We saw them off, quietly murmuring prayers. We did not put our hands together for the prayers – we squeezed our fists, and swore to take revenge.

My job at the D.A.W. as a storekeeper took not more than a half hour each day. There was little paperwork, so for the rest of the time I made chess pieces, wooden clogs, tapes, etc. I made something else too, but…


In English

Document. Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum archive
Proceedings of the Warsaw trial of the Auschwitz commandant, Rudolf Hoess
Syg. Dpr-Hd/8
pp. 33, 79-81