There were days when up to 30,000 people were burned at the Auschwitz-Birkenau facility, according to recollections of an escaped inmate
A declassified report from a Soviet prisoner of war who managed to escape from Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, shares shocking details of how thousands were executed at the notorious death center Nazi and on the difficulty of survival for those who were left alive and forced to work.
The Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) dedicated the release of the historic document to the 78th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp by Soviet forces, which is celebrated on Friday.
Over a million people, mostly Jewish, Polish and Soviet prisoners, were executed in the southern Poland death camp between 1940 and 1945, with Senior Lieutenant Pavel Gavrish witnessing many of these events terrifying.
Thousands of Soviet prisoners of war brought to Auschwitz in late 1941 and early 1942 were used by the Nazis to build Birkenau – the largest of more than 40 camps and subcamps that made up the center of the dead.
In an essay Gavrish wrote in 1944, shortly after escaping Auschwitz-Birkenau, he said that only 140 people out of 12,000 prisoners of war that the Nazis, “full of slander for the Russian people”, had sent to the site survived.
“Hungry, threadbare and sinking in the mud, they died by the hundreds every day,” he called back. “The Birkenau camp was called the grave of the living. Bones of Russian POWs and a stone laid the foundation for this camp.
The Soviet officer also described the design of the infamous Auschwitz crematorium, which, in his own words, was equipped with “Advanced Nazi technology.”
That “enterprise of extermination of humanity” consisted of a sealed gas chamber for 3,000 people with a window through which a gas container was deployed, and another room containing 15 ovens, the Soviet officer wrote. The two areas were connected by railroad tracks, with wagons used to deliver corpses to incinerators.
“There were days when the number of people burned reached 25,000 to 30,000 people,” Gavrish wrote. The victims, including the elderly, women and children, were told they were going to a public bath as they were sent to die.
All Jews arriving at Auschwitz-Birkenau were killed, while some of the younger and healthier representatives of other nationalities were spared and turned into camp workers.
“An inmate ceased to be a human being, becoming a slave with a number on his chest,” the report read. The daily rations consisted only of “Three quarters of a liter of soup, 250 grams of ersatz bread and 20 grams of ersatz cheese, which were not always available in full. The most exhausted prisoners were picked by doctors, rounded up in barns, starved for several days and then sent straight to the crematorium, Gavrish recalls.
Up to one hundred people died every day during forced labor, as overseers recruited from the ranks of German and Polish criminals were encouraged to reduce the number of inmates. “Only a small number of prisoners were involved in the actual construction of the camp, while the rest of the work at Auschwitz-Birkenau made no practical sense,” he wrote.
All mistakes and disobedience were severely punished, with inmates beaten, hanged, or sent to a punishment ward from which only a few returned. The Nazis also often killed people just “For Sport,” Gavrish wrote, recalling how, on Christmas 1942, guards made inmates run around the camp with a large boulder, while beating them with batons and kicking them. “More than 3,000 were killed or maimed” during this activity, he says.
Auschwitz-Birkenau came under Soviet military control on January 27, 1945, the date being recognized as International Holocaust Remembrance Day.