Upon arrival at Auschwitz, prisoners from a given transports were selected into two groups: fit for work and destined for gassing. This procedure was designed in detail and implemented by the SS men very carefully. After leaving the train by the prisoners, the Nazis separated family members and arranged all of the people in two columns. Men and bigger boys stood in the first group, and women with children in the second.Then, those people were led to SS doctors or other German authorities who took part in the selection. Their task was to make a judgment based on the appearance of the people standing in front of them. If a given prisoner was healthy and well-built, he was assigned to work in the camp. If a person was sickly and unfit for work, the Nazis sent them to the gas chambers.Sometimes the SS guards decided about life or death by asking about the profession. In the eyes of the Nazis, people of culture and art, professors, or clergymen were dangerous and incapable of hard work, so after receiving information about their profession, the SS immediately put them on the list for gassing.The age of the prisoners was also a decisive factor for the SS officers. As a rule, children under the age of 16, and in 1944 already under 14, were marked for death. The Nazis applied the same principle to old people. Statistically, people selected for work were a group of about 20% of prisoners from a given transport. They were then taken to the camp, where the Nazis registered them as prisoners and gave them subsequent numbers to identify them. U

Railway in Auschwitz Birkenau Poland. Stable access with tracks to the prison camp and extermination

What did the prisoners see when they arrived at Birkenau on night

The Jews deported to the concentration camps by train left many descriptions of what they saw when they arrived at Birkenau at night. The most shocking view was to see a huge pit where babies are being burned and another prepared for adults. 

Prisoners destined to die

People chosen for death during the selection process were led to the gas chambers. Men unable to work, women and children were first directed to rooms where they had to leave their clothes and belongings gathered in suitcases. The Nazis did not inform them about the death until the last moment. They told them that they would be sent to work in the camp, but first, they had to undergo disinfection and a bath. The German officers designated special rooms to leave things. They were located right next to the crematoria. After undressing, the victims were led into the gas chamber, where they were locked and killed with Zyklon B gas.

Gas chambers

The gassing of the crowded people in Auschwitz lasted about 20 minutes. After this process, the Sonderkommando prisoners pulled out the corpses. Their job was also to cut women’s hair. They removed dental metals from the bodies along with jewelry. Then the corpses were burned – usually in pits specially dug for this purpose, but also on pyres or in crematorium ovens.

If there were any remains left after the burned bodies, for example in the form of bones, they were crushed into powder. They were then added to the ashes. The last action was to sink everything in the water reservoirs or spread it over the fields as fertilizer.

Prisoners chosen for work in Auschwitz concentration camp 

Prisoners who were selected to work in the camp during the selection process were assigned an identification number. From then on, they were only referred to by the numbers tattooed on their arms. Immediately afterward, a suitable barrack was designated for them, where they had to stay and sleep.

What were the prisoners made to do as they entered the barracks

After registration, the Nazis ordered the prisoner to undress. They wore a striped uniform. They were also ordered to shave their hair and take a shower, which was done in mass and in public. Then they had to take the place chosen for them in the barracks and wait for work.

The order of the day in Auschwitz 

In the winter, the working day began at 5.30, and in the summer at 4.30. The sound of the morning gong was a wake-up call. Prisoners got up, tidied up their living rooms, and did their physiological needs. The second gong meant roll-call, and then all the prisoners left the buildings and gathered in the square, where the Nazis checked the number of people.

Then the prisoners went to work. The minimum working time was 11 hours. At noon, there was an hour-long food break. After that, the prisoners worked until dusk, when they returned to the camp for the evening roll call and a meal. Then they had a short moment for themselves – most often they visited friends or went to the washroom. At 9 pm, the evening gong was the signal of curfew.

The duties carried out in the concentration camp

Prisoners did various kinds of work. The job took place both inside and outside the camp. The German officers ordered people to forced labour and work beyond their strength. Their duty was to carry sacks of cement and bricks from railway wagons to warehouses and to the construction site. They were also tasked with digging drainage ditches and building foundations, as well as breaking down the walls of houses with heavy timber beams. All this was done without any protection or safety clothing.

Gate of Auschwitz
Gate of Auschwitz

Experiments in the concentration camp 

Experiments at Auschwitz were conducted by German doctors who believed that their actions were done for the sake of the Third Reich and Germany. They treated prisoners as easily available and cheap material for human experiments. The treatments were painful and dangerous, such as testing diseases by infecting prisoners with viruses or lethal sterilization and castration. It was torture for the majority, especially for Jewish prisoners. 

Currently, the museum houses historical collections that are remnants of the events that took place in Auschwitz. Auschwitz & Birkenau Tour from Krakow is a good option for anyone wanting to visit the museum. Furthermore, you can also opt for the Auschwitz Birkenau & Salt Mine One Day Tour trip, thanks to which it is possible to visit Auschwitz and the Salt Mine in one day.