Soviet prisoners in the SS Auschwitz

From the memoirs of Andrey Pogozhev (prisoner 1418)

«The first days in the camp literally dumfounded everyone. It seemed that we had been turned into a herd of animals. For some reason we would be drawn in a large group whether it was to attend a roll-call or a medical examination, to receive scanty dietaries, etc... Everyone had to be present for the roll-call. Sick people unable to walk and even the dead were carried out of the blocks. The roll-call lasted for two hours. So every morning and evening columns of teetering Soviet prisoners of war would stand completely naked facing the rows of naked dead and sick people unable to move lying on gravel and concrete pavement… The dietary consisted of half a liter of tea — warm liquid with no certain taste or smell — in the morning; 800 grams of something resembling beetroot soup with traces of grits, potato and sometimes meat in the afternoon. In the evening every 6 prisoners shared a brick-shaped earthy-coloured loaf of bread accompanied by a dab of jam, a piece of margarine or some stinking fish cheese».

(Pogozhev A., Stenkin P., Oswiecim Break-out. To Stay Alive. M. 2005. P 24–25, 72)

Transcript of interrogation of witness and former prisoner Smolen Kazimezh (camp number 1327),
on the organization of the camp, the treatment of Soviet prisoners of war in 1941 and early 1942
20.08.1946. Krakow


Document translation


August 20, 1946, Krakow. District investigating judge Yang Song, acting on the basis of the Decree of 10 XI 1945 (Dz.URP № 51, pos. 293). On the main commission and county commissions of investigation of German crimes in Poland, as a member of the Main Commission questioned pursuant to Art. 255 and Art. 107, 115 of the Criminal Procedure Code of the below named a former prisoner of the concentration camp in Oswiecim, who gave the following testimony:

"My name is Smolen Kazimezh, date of birth 19.04.1920 in Khluzhuv Stary, son of Joseph and Helena Olshovka, Roman Catholic, Polish citizen, Polish, student, resides in Lublin, Lyubartovskaya Street 31.

I was arrested in Chorzów on April 15, 1940. I was accused of belonging to an independence restoration organization. I was brought to Auschwitz on July 16, 1940 and stayed there as a prisoner under the number 1327 until January 18, 1945. I worked at a political department Aufnahre bureau until July 1941. In September 1942, I became a capo (overseer) of the entire team of prisoners who worked in different political department bureaus. 18 prisoners worked here. At first, the director of the political department was Ernest Grabner, and Schurz took his place after Grabner’s arrest in 1943. Kirschner was his secretary. The interrogation and investigation department was led by Wosnitza and Westphal, and the last one (inaudible), who was assisted by Boger and Lachmann. The Department of vital records (inaudible) was headed by Quskernack, and then Christian. Aside from him, there was an SS man Jasper. The heads of the reception desk were Clausen and Stark, and the last one was Irber-Ilustek. Other than that (inaudible), Albrecht Bruno, Bilan Włodzimierz, Klaus Otto, Brocke Wilhelm, and Gausner worked in the bureau. The head of the (inaudible) was Walter. Hoffmann also worked there. The main executor of administrative work and personal orders was Herbert Kirschner.

The task of the political department was to make registration cards and register all prisoners from the moment they first appeared at the camp and up until their death, or transfer to another camp. The department also executed the orders of departments that sent the prisoners to the camp (Einweisende Dienststelle), conducted investigations among prisoners on matters the prisoners had to be interrogated about, and monitored safety inside the camp. This department was also in charge of block 11, which was a reserve prison for the Polizei-Ersatzgefängnis Myslowitz in Auschwitz. This prison contained people who were arrested by the Gestapo, during periods of investigation. These were the so-called Polizeihäftlings,or PH.

Usually, the police court that took care of prisoner affairs came from Katowice to Auschwitz once a month. The employees of the Auschwitz political department took part in these court proceedings. This was the high police court (Polizei-Standgericht). During one court session, which lasted 4-5 hours, the court would look over the cases of up to 200 arrestees. Usually, the court would sentence people to death.

Those who were not sentenced to death would be left in the camps as prisoners. Those who were sentenced to death would be first executed by gunfire in block 11, and then were poisoned with gas. According to my calculations, this police court sentenced about 3,000 people to death in Auschwitz in 1941-1945.

The court did not conduct an investigation. My colleagues who were more familiar with these sessions said that people were superficially evaluated in placed in one group or the other. One of the groups would be put to death. The safety department – a corresponding criminal police unit – would make the decision about who would be left in the camp.

Often, political office workers arrested civilians who did not belong to the camp (usually for associating with prisoners), but this was always approved by the police unit. First this was the police unity in Pszczyna, and then at Oswiecim. The same applied to the arrest of hostages for fugitives. These hostages were taken from family members of fugitives in accordance with orders issued by the political department. This repression method was used in Auschwitz since 1941. Arrested family members were held in the camp as regular prisoners.

The cases of prisoners, which were sent to the camp by the criminal police department, contained exact information about the prisoner, along the description of his or her crime. The basis for imprisoning these people in camps was an arrest order issued by the police unit Reichkriminalpolizeiamt (RKPA). These prisoners were kept in the camp under the title Verbeugungahart (VH). Usually, these were professional criminals Berufaverbracher (B-V), social criminals Assoziale (Ass) and homosexuals Homoseksual § 175. The second reason for arrest and camp sentencing was the so-called Polizaisicherheitsverwahrung (PSV). These were criminal and political prisoners sent by a court sentence after serving prison sentences. All of these prisoners, regardless of whether they were there for political or criminal offenses, wore green, upside-down triangles. Prisoners who were held in the concentration camp in accordance with safety police orders and the orders of the secret government police, or Schutzhaft. These were political prisoners and all General Government prisoners. All prisoners of this type that were not from the General Government had detainment orders in their papers (Schutzbaftbefehl) with the title Geheimas Staatspolizeiiamt,” which was issued by the safety police that executed the arrest.

All GG prisoners were shipped to the camp in accordance with lists compiled by the safety police commissioner and the court of the given district. These list headers said that the given group was detained as hostages, or as (inaudible) for some act of resistance. The papers that came from the office which sent the prisoners to the camp sometimes contained special notes, for example Rückkeht unerwünacht, which meant that the police deems the return of the prisoner to his or her former place of residency to be undesirable. Nach und Nebel (NN), Naaresachaum (Na), or Frühlingsluft (Fl), which were cryptonyms, meant that even the slightest trace of the prisoner should be destroyed. This did not mean that the prisoner had to be put to death at the camp, it just means that the prisoner was not to have contact with the outside world. These prisoners were not allowed to send or receive letters. General Stochmal from Vienna was at the camp with a Naaresachaum note. The Jewish minister of finance of the Reich (who served starting in 1924) was kept at the camp with a Frühlingsluft note, but I forget his last name.

A shipment of French communists arrived at the camp in the middle of 1942 with Nach and Nebel notes. This shipment had people of different nationalities, including the Dutch Hans and Backmann. Overall, the Chief safety department of the Reich (Reichssicherheitshauptamt) determined the fate of prisoners at the camp, regardless of which police department has sent them there. The only exception was the group of Soviet prisoners of war, which totaled about 12,000 people in Auschwitz – these were under the supervision of the High Command of the ground troops (Oberkommando der Wermacht). The majority of people from this group, that is about 8,000, arrived at Auschwitz in the beginning of October 1941 from the Neuhammer am Queis camp for prisoners of war (stalag VIIIA). The majority of them died by the end of 1941/beginning of 1942. Death notices were sent by the camp’s political department to the High Command of the ground troops (Oberkommando der Wermacht) in Berlin, Hohenataufenstrasse 56/58 and to the concentration camp inspector in Oranienburg. Prisoner registration cards and death notices (which typically indicated “natural causes” as the cause of death) were sent to Oberkommando. The concentration camp inspector was notified of the real cause of death – the death penalty.

Soon after the arrival of prisoners to the camp, a special commission from the Katowice branch of the Gestapo arrived. The commission separated the POWs into 3 groups: A, B, C. The first group included fanatical communists (fanatischer Kommunist), the second contained those who were subject to rehabilitation and the third, those whose the behavior was required for recovery (zum Niederaufbau geeignat). The first group contained about 1,000 people. This group was divided into smaller groups and were either shot or poisoned with gas in block 11. The second group had a lot more people, and the third group had very few people. The majority of these people died as a result of hunger, hard labor, the cold and ill treatment. The small number of people left were transferred to Birkenau in the spring of 1942, where they began working on the construction of the camp founded there.

Moreover, groups of Russians were transported from Sonderkommando Zeppelin and frequently executed by gun fire. They always arrived with SS uniforms, sometimes in officer uniforms. There were Russians who worked with the Germans.

The Germans decided to get rid of them, as Geheimnisträg. This Sonderkommando was supposed to work one the construction of airports.

The act against the Roma, of which there were 30,000 in Oswiecim, was conucted in accordance with the general order of Reichskriminalpolizeiamt Zentrale zur Bekämpfung des Zigeunrumwessens. According to the instructions on this case, which I held in my own hands, this act was to be executed in order to clear the territory of the Reich and other territories controlled by Germans of the Roma people, who should be held at concentration camps and occupied with useful labor. Out of the entire group of Roma who arrived at Oswiecim, 1,000 were sent to other camps. The remainder died of illnesses, hunger and difficult living conditions. Of those who remained, 8,000 were poisoned with gas.

The Reichskriminalpolizeiamt general order also called for the transportation of Jews from the Reich and conquered territories, as well as the populations of Vitebsk, Minsk, Kiev and Zamoyschizna. All of those evacuated were Aryans.

Out of the Jewish people who were shipped to the camp, only those who were suitable for labor were selected, those that the head of the labor department (Arbeitaensatz) needed. The rest were sent to the gas chambers right from the cars.

Usually, about 20% were selected and registered in the camp documents. Those who were shipped in from Zamoyschizna were also sent off to the gas chambers. The Jews who were left were subjected to another act, the so-called Briefaktion des RHSA.

A special RHSA envoy came to the camp for this. All Jews had to write letters to their relatives within the night, indicating a labor camp located next to the town of New Bieruń as the address. The letters were collected by the RHSA employee. These letters were written not on regular camp sheets, which all prisoners had to use, but on special paper handed out by the RHSA employee.

According to my calculations, about 300,000 people of all Auschwitz camp categories dies. The number of people who were sent to the gas chambers directly from the railway station, that is people who were not counted as part of the camp population, amounted to 2.5 million.

Each new shipment of people that was meant for the immediate extermination with gas and the number of people selected for the labor camps were reported to the RHS camp commander, that is Eichmanna. Special forms with “GEheim” stamps, which were passed on by Eichmanna, were used for this purpose. The top half of this telegram indicated the total number of people who have been brought to the camp, the number of people selected for labor, the number classified as gesondert Untergabracht, and the number of people who would be sent off to the gas chambers right away. The bottom of the page indicated what food was shipped in with the people (Verpflegung). The telegram text was prepared by SS guards at the Aufnahme bureau. It was signed by the camp commandant Hess, or his deputies Grabner or Schurz. Hess, as the camp commandant, was notified of every Jewish act.

I have no idea how much he was involved with sorting new camp arrivals into groups. I know for sure that after he left his post as commandant in November 1943, he was still trying to eradicate Jews. In April of 1944, he appeared in Auschwitz again and was carrying out an act against Hungarian Jews. In September 1944, I held in my hands a telegram signed by Hess, who was the head of the D1 department, which was addressed to the Auschwitz concentration camp. The telegram outlined an order to separate the so-called Sonderkommando from other prisoners (gasoudart untwbringen), which meant that they were to be sent to the gas chambers. He wrote that this included about 800 prisoners. The order was not carried out, because the Sonderkommando rebelled before they were sent off to the gas chambers.

lot of SS soldiers adopted the values that Western Jews brought with them to Auschwitz.

A After the camp was transferred into the hands of Liebehenschel, he brought with him a special commission that conducted an investigation into abuse of power. A lot of SS guards were arrested, including Grabner, who was accused in killing prisoners at his own will, without orders."

The transcript was finished. The interrogation and testimony were over.

Witness: Kazimezh Smolen
Recorded by: Christina Szymanska
District investigating judge: Yang Song

Round stamp: District investigating judge in Krakow


In English

Document. Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum archive
Proceedings of the Warsaw trial of the Auschwitz commandant, Rudolf Hess
Syg. Dpr-Hd/7в
P. 216–221

Transcript of interrogation of witness and former prisoner Pozimski Ezhi (camp number 1099),
on the treatment of Soviet prisoners of war in 1941 and early 1942
August 8, 1946, Auschwitz


Document translation


Auschwitz , August 8, 1946. District investigating judge Yang Song, acting on the basis of the Decree of 10 XI 1945 (Dz.URP № 51, pos. 293). On the main commission and county commissions of investigation of German crimes in Poland, as a member of the Main Commission questioned pursuant to Art. 255 and Art. 107, 115 of the Criminal Procedure Code of the below named person, who gave the following testimony:

"My name is Pozimski Ezhi, date of birth 05.05.1913 in Charle, the son of Yan and Gertrude Sekula, Roman Catholic, a Polish citizen residing in the State Museum of Auschwitz.

I was in the Auschwitz concentration camp from 24.06.1940 until 18.01.1945, under the number 1099. At first, until about November 1940, I worked at the camp expansion project. Then, until the middle of 1941, I worked as a clerk in block 3a. Starting in the middle of 1941, I worked in the Arbeitseinsatz (the employment department). This was a group that included 7 other prisoners.

There was a special department created for the managing the work of prisoners at Auschwitz, which was at first a part of the fifth department (Abteilung 5) under the title Kommandatur Abteilung Arbeitseinsatz (Commandant’s Office of Employment), and later was part of the third department under the title Abteilung Arbeitseinsatz (IIIa). The Arbeitseinsatzführer, who was at first the Obersturmführer (Schwarz) was at the top of this structure at first. Then this was the SS-Untersturmführer Zell. The Arbeitseinsatz bureau consisted of two parts. The first was the administrative and clerical department, where Untersturmführer Gebbert and Untersturmführer Kapper worked. The second – the foreign service – was headed by the Arbeitseinsatzführer. The Arbeitsdienst directors until the end of 1942 were SS-Scharführer Fries, SS-Unterscharführer Schoppe and SS-Rottenführer Lowönday. Later, the position was filled by SS-Hauptscharführer Moll, SS-Unterscharführer Emmerich, Jurkowski, Oppelt, Salaban, Kirschner and others. The assistant position…"

"…for French prisoners, several thousand of which arrived at the camp some time back. The visit was announced ahead od time. The camp commandant Hess ordered to find several healthy and good-looking French people from these shipments in order to show them to tour participants. After a search of all team, 2 Frenchmen who could be shown were found. Both were placed on the platform near block 24, where Hess arrived accompanied by journalists and several SS officers.

The journalists asked the prisoners questions in German, and the questions were translated into French. Both prisoners answered that they lived well, but their faces showed that this was absolutely not the case. That night, each of them received 25 lashes in the presence of Hess.

In a private conversation, lagerältester Bruno Brodniewicz told me that the commandant did not like their facial expressions during the interview with the journalists.

In December 1941, I witnessed the following scene: the Russian prisoners in block 14, who always left for work before others in the morning, did not leave the block. I do not know why this happened. After the other teams left, Hess and his entourage went to block 14. The guards of the Russian camp kicked out all of the prisoners from block 14 into the street between blocks 14 and 15 naked. The guards then surrounded the prisoners and started beating them with sticks until they fell to the ground. I think there were over 100 prisoners. They were beaten until they all fell to the ground in a pile. The guards with water hoses were then called and the pile of prisoners was hosed down with water. Hess was there, and observed these events unfold. I want to note that this was a really cold day. My colleagues said that, after just a few hours, they used axes to break apart the frozen corpses and take them away.

In the fall of 1941, over 10,000 Russian POWs were brought to the camp. They were placed in blocks 1, 2, 3, 12, 13, 14, 22, 23 and 24, which were separated from the other blocks with a barbed wire fence. These blocks then made up a separate Russian camp. The head of this camp, the so-called Raportfürer Arbeitedienstfürer, was SS-Unterscharführer Stiwitz. Because of poor clothing, terrible living conditions and bad nutrition, the majority of prisoners died within a few months in the end of 1941/beginning of 1942. They worked on the construction of a road from the railway to the Birkenau camp.

Only those who went to work received clothes. The rest sat naked in unheated blocks.

Evening roll at that time lasted more than an hour. This happened because we were forced to wait until all of the corpses of Russian prisoners who died while working were brought to the camp."

Read. The interrogation and testimony were over.

Witness: Pozimski Ezhi
Recorded by: Christina Szymanska
District investigating judge: Yang Song

Round stamp: District investigating judge in Krakow


In English

Document. Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum archive
Proceedings of the Warsaw trial of the Auschwitz commandant, Rudolf Hess
Syg. Dpr-Hd/4
P. 66, 70, 71