The Auschwitz-Birkenau 'Labor Force.'

by Dr. Daniel Keren, Jamie McCarthy
Gord McFee and Mark Van Alstine


Holocaust-deniers claim that the ovens of Auschwitz saw little use. Very few could be cremated, they say - a few hundred corpses per day at most - and there was never any systematic killing at Auschwitz, only deaths caused by accidents, typhus and old age. So of course there was no need for the crematory fires to burn day and night.

These documents (among others) prove them wrong.


Introduction

In the Auschwitz Museum archives are a series of three-pages documents listing the Arbeitseinsatz, the "labor force," active each day at the Birkenau camp. Fortunately, these documents were not destroyed at the end of the war like most Auschwitz camp papers.

The labor force documents are an example of what many call the Nazi love for bureaucracy. Every job from the laundry room to the typing room, from weed mowers to canal cleaners, is listed here, in columns of anonymous numbers that change slightly from day to day.

Was it important to record that there were two skilled laborers staffing the political department of the prisoner typing room on August 2, 1944, but three the next day? Perhaps this had something to do with the corporation I.G. Farben promising: "A payment of RM 3 per day for unskilled workers and RM 4 per day for skilled workers is to be made for each inmate." [1] Whatever the reason, detailed records were kept for even the most trivial tasks.

And then there are the tasks which betray the sinister secrets inside the camp: the extermination actions. The most striking facts can be hidden in a featureless series of numbers. The number of "stokers" are listed on page 3 of each report. At face value, this would mean the prisoners who fed the huge ovens of the death camp with fuel. In reality, it is a euphemism for the Sonderkommando, the prisoners who also untangled corpses from the gas chambers, dragged them to the ovens or pits, and burned them.

How many? During July and August of 1944, over 100 people were required at each of four crematoria buildings during the day, and an equal number at night. Over eight hundred Sonderkommando staffed the extermination buildings to help carry out the liquidation of the Gypsy camp in Birkenau; Jews from Belgium and France; Jews from the Galacia and Radom districts in the Generalgovernment; and Jews from the Lodz Ghetto in the Warthgua. [2]

On September 23, 1944, according to eyewitness testimony, 200 Sonderkommando were taken to the Auschwitz I camp and murdered. [3] The labor force report for October 3 shows a drop from 874 to 661 Sonderkommando.

Sinti and Roma are listed as unskilled workers on the third page of the August 2 report (as "Zig.," for "Zigeuner"). This was their last day. Their entry is gone on the August 3 report. The activities of August 2 are described by Danuta Czech: [4]

After the evening roll call, a camp arrest is ordered in Auschwitz II and a block arrest in the Gypsy Family Camp, B-IIe. Camp B-IIe and other barracks where Gypsies are housed are surrounded by armed SS men. Trucks drive into the camp and 2,897 defenseless women, men, and children are driven to the gas chambers.

Note also that the wood unloaders working at Crematorium IV (V) during July and August suggest that, at this time, additional corpse-burning was taking place in the incineration pits to the north and west of that Crema. By October, the wood unloaders are not listed.

Finally, note the boys, twin boys, and other prisoners kept for "experimental purposes" on p. 3 of each day. These were the so-called Mengele twins.


Commentary

Some comments on the documents, their translation and preparation follow.

The format for the days we have available is very similar from day to day. On the first two and a half pages, the numbers are broken up into skilled and unskilled workers, listed in two columns in the middle. Subtotals for each numbered category are given in the two rightmost columns, which are then carried down into a section total and a page total. The left column "Post" has fewer workers and is also totalled. Only the men are listed.

Underlining has been reproduced as such. German emphasizes words by putting spaces between each letter; this has been reproduced as italics.

We have translated the common word "Kommando" as "detail," as in a work detail. It could also have been translated "squad" or "command."

These documents are labeled as referring to Auschwitz II, that is, the Birkenau camp of the Auschwitz complex. A few activities are listed as taking place in other camps (such as "Plawy").

The Crematoria are numbered I-IV in this document, though the alternate numbering system II-V was used in other documents and is preferred today. We have left the old-style numbering system, and put the preferred numbers in parentheses.

Abbreviations have been rendered into English as clearly as possible given the limited space available. (The serious researcher should be examining the German text in any case.) One abbreviation we were unable to interpret conclusively: "b.d. Dachppf" we believe to mean Dachpappefertigung, "roof felt preparation." We have left this in German not only because of our uncertainty but for reasons of formatting (the abbreviation is much shorter).

Near the bottom of page 3, the prisoner occupancy is listed by each section of the Birkenau camp. According to Danuta Czech, Auschwitz Chronicle, 1990, p. 5, and Yisrael Gutman et al., Eds., Anatomy of the Auschwitz Death Camp, 1994, p. 341 (photo), these sections were:

We apologize for the poor reproduction quality of the images.


The documents


Implications for Holocaust-denial

Holocaust-deniers claim that there was never any extermination at any of the Auschwitz camps, nor any intention for same. What will they say about these documents?

As the historian Pierre Vidal-Naquet astutely points out, deniers insist that: [5]

Any Nazi document bearing direct testimony is taken at face value if written in coded language...

Deniers will surely claim that where these documents read "Heizer" - which can be translated either "stokers" or "burners" - they are to be taken literally. Since there was no extermination, there could not have been a Sonderkommando.

But that still leaves over 800 supposed "stokers" at the four buildings correctly identified as "crematoria." So deniers must still answer these questions:

If Auschwitz was not a death camp, why did it require over 800 people to tend its crematory furnaces?

Why is the liquidation of the Sonderkommando on September 27 corroborated by this documentary evidence?

Why is the liquidation of the Gypsy camp on August 3 corroborated by this documentary evidence?

Deniers will probably point out that there are sick inmates and children listed on the labor force reports, and ask how they could be tolerated in a death camp. We will pre-emptively respond to this:

a) There are hardly any children listed in the camp for Jewish men -- just four.

b) Auschwitz was also a detention center. Most children were deported from Warsaw with their parents after the rebellion in 1944.

c) Judging from the daily reports, there was one large liquidation action of children (their number drops by 150 or so, with none of them mentioned as being transferred).

d) Some of the children may have been kept for Mengele's experiments (the "twins for experimental purposes" are mentioned).

e) Some inmates were cured to be used for slave labor force, or because they were not earmarked for extermination. The Franke- Gricksch report is very clear on this point, saying that even Jews who are "curably ill" are cured and incorporated into the labor program.


Notes

  1. Dwork, Debórah and Robert Jan van Pelt, Auschwitz: 1270 to the Present, 1996, p. 208. I.G. Farben's arrangement was made in 1941; to our knowledge, this was still true in 1944.

  2. Czech, Danuta, Auschwitz Chronicle 1939-1945, 1990, pp. 672-700; Gutman, Yisrael and Michael Berenbaum, Eds., Anatomy of the Auschwitz Death Camp, 1994, pp. 395, 466.

  3. Two hundred Sonderkommando were murdered on September 23, 1944 in a delousing chamber in Auschwitz I. Pressac comments somewhere on this gassing, saying it is "dubious," but Czech cites the testimony of Dr. Horst Fischer in the GDR, 1966. Mueller writes that this happened "towards the end of September," and also gives the number of 200.

  4. Czech, Danuta, op.cit., p. 677.

  5. Vidal-Naquet, Pierre, Assassins of Memory: Essays on the Denial of the Holocaust, 1992, p. 22.


These documents were provided to Dr. Daniel Keren courtesy of the Auschwitz Museum.

Translations by Gord McFee; research by Mark Van Alstine; editing by Jamie McCarthy.