VRBA DESCRIBES DEATH RATES AND THE RESISTANCE MOVEMENT
If you find you Vrba’s accent is an impediment to easy comprehension, you can consult a verbatim transcript of his comments provided below the screen. Or, if you prefer to adjust the speed of his comments, start the video and click the “Settings” cog (next to the word YouTube) and select “Playback Speed” and select .75.
The Production of Death (Transcript)
“[In Auschwitz…] There was a considerable amount of political prisoners. Trade unionists. Social democrats. Communists. Ex-fighters from Spain… What happened was a very peculiar development. The resistance leadership in Auschwitz was concentrated in the hands of German-speaking anti-Nazis who were German by birth. They were considered racially pure by the Nazi hierarchy. They got a bit better treatment than the rest of the camp. I don’t say that they were treated with [kid] gloves but they managed, with time, to gain influence with various Nazi dignitaries of the S.S. and to use it in a way, which led systematically, to an improvement in conditions within the concentration camp.
“Whereas in 1942, in Birkenau, in December and January, a death rate of 400 prisoners per day was common, by May 1943, not only because of the weather improvement but due to the activities of the resistance movement, the improvement was so marked that the mortality rate grossly [greatly] decreased in the concentration camp and they considered it a great victory on their side. And that improvement in living conditions was perhaps not so against the policies of the higher echelons of the SS ranks as long as it did not interfere with the objective of the camp… which was production of death on the arrivals which [who] were not prisoners of the camp.
“There was a rule that those people in the transports who could be utilized for work, who were in good physical condition, [if] they are not old, they are not too young, they are not children, they are not women with children, etcetera, etcetera, [if] they look healthy, they should come into the concentration camp for replacement of those who had died as a fresh force. And the following discussions I once overheard:
“A transport came from Holland or from Belgium… I cannot guarantee which one it was… and the S.S. doctor selected a group of well-looking Jewish prisoners from the whole transport which was to be gassed. But the representative from the concentration camp, the S.S., says [said] he doesn’t want them. There was a discussion between them, which I could overhear, in which the doctor was saying, “Why don’t you take them? They are [Vrba quotes in German]… which means, “Jews very nourished on Dutch cheese.” He said they would be very good for the camp. And Friese, it was, said [Vrba again quotes in German]… “I can’t take these people because nowadays they don’t kick the bucket so fast.”
“In order words, he explained that if the stand [standard population] of the camp was, say, thirty thousand and, if 500 or 5,000 died, they were replaced by a new force from the transport of Jewish prisoners that came in. But if only a thousand die, well, only a thousand were replaced. And more would visit the gas chamber. So, the improvement of conditions within the concentration camp itself made a higher death rate for the gas chamber.
“So, here it was clear to me that the improvement of the situation in the concentration camp does not impede the process of mass executions. Consequently, my idea of the sense of the resistance movement was that the improvement of conditions within the camp is only a first step and then the resistance movement wants [must] to be aware that the main thing is to stop the process of mass execution.
“Therefore, it is a time of [for] preparation, a gathering of forces for attacking the S.S. from inside, even if it is a suicidal mission… but [nevertheless] destroying the machinery. And this respect [object] I would consider a suitable objective. A worthy objective.
“It was clear to me that such an objective could not be achieved overnight. It was necessary for a lot of preparation, and a lot of circumstances, and a small cog in the machinery could not know or decide. It was clear in my mind that the only objective of the resistance of the concentration camp at the time of Auschwitz has to be different from that in Malthausen or in Dachau. Because whereas in Malthausen and Dachau this policy of resistance improved the survival rate of political prisoners, the same way improved and oiled the machinery of mass annihilation as practiced by the Nazis.”
According to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial Museum:
“Prisoners also underwent punishment in Block 11, in regular cells, dark cells, or standing cells. Punishment here was usually connected with suspected sabotage, contact with civilians, escape attempts or aid to escapees, or apprehension while escaping. The windows in the normal cells had windows that were partially bricked up from the outside, and the inmates could sleep on wooden bunks. Rather than windows, the dark cells had vents covered on the outside by metal screens with air holes punched in them. Prisoners slept on the bare floor. Confinement in the dark cells lasted from several days to several weeks.
“Prisoners confined to death by starvation for escape attempts, or after being selected as hostages in reprisal for escapes by others, were held in the dark cells. From the beginning of 1942, prisoners were also punished by confinement in standing cells. These were four spaces measuring less than 1 sq. m. each. The only source of air was a 5 x 5 cm. opening covered with a metal grille. Entry to the standing cell was through a small opening at floor level, closed with bars and a wooden hatch. Four prisoners were confined in each of these spaces for the night. They had to go to work in the morning. The punishment was applied for periods from several nights up to several weeks in a row.
“Initially, a firing squad executed prisoners near the camp at places where gravel had been extracted—the so-called “gravel pits.” From the fall of 1941 to the fall of 1943, the majority of executions were carried out in the walled-off yard of block 11 in the main camp, in front of a specially built “Death Wall.” The condemned prisoners had to strip naked in block 11, on the ground floor. Any women among them disrobed in separate rooms. The women were then led into the courtyard and shot first. The condemned prisoners were led to the wall in pairs. The SS executioner walked up from behind and shot them in the back of the head with a small-calibre rifle. Designated prisoners threw the corpses onto trucks or carts that delivered them to the crematoria.
“Auschwitz SS men also carried out numerous executions in which they shot Soviet POWs in the gravel pits, the courtyard of block 11, and inside the crematoria. Many of the people killed in this way were never entered in the camp records. On October 7, 1944, the SS shot 200 Jews in reprisal for the mutiny by Sonderkommando prisoners. We have only partial data as to the number of victims of shooting. It is estimated that almost 1 thousand prisoners previously jailed in the cells in block 11 were killed in this way, as well as 4,500 so-called “police prisoners” sentenced to death by the Summary Court.
“Significant but unknown numbers of prisoners were shot after being taken straight from the camp for execution, as were Soviet POWs and Poles brought in from outside to be killed. Executions were also carried out in the gas chambers in Auschwitz. In the latter half of 1941 and at the beginning of the following year, about 2 thousand Soviet POWs were killed in this way, as were 320 prisoners from the penal company in the aftermath of their planned mass escape in June 1942. Poles sentenced to death by the Summary Court were killed in the gas chambers in 1944, after the liquidation of the Death Wall. Several hundred people probably died in this way.”