What was Auschwitz-Birkenau?

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Arrival at the Auschwitz train platform.

  • Auschwitz I was a concentration camp. In August 1944, it held about 16,000 prisoners (approximately ten thousand Jews, four thousand Poles, and three thousand prisoners from other ethnic groups) at any one time. Prisoners were used as slave laborers. Most would die of starvation and disease within a few weeks.

  • Auschwitz II (Birkenau) was a death camp. Everyone that the Nazis deemed unfit for slave labor was immediately killed in specially built gas chambers. (By clicking on the previous link, you will leave The Mitzvah Project’s study guide and access another website.)

  • At the height of the deportations, an average of 6,000 Jews were killed each day in Birkenau’s gas chambers. 

Zyklon B was the trade name of a cyanide gas, originally developed as a pesticide, repurposed by the Nazis to kill human beings.

Did you know?

The photo at right is of Roger’s mother, Lotte, taken at a Red Cross camp in 1945. When she was freed from Auschwitz-Birkenau, about two months before the picture was taken, Lotte weighed 90 pounds and was dying of typhus, a deadly epidemic that raged through the camp. She eventually recovered. 

Discussion

The allies (U.S., Britain, France and the Soviet Union) knew about the death camps.  Why do you think they didn’t undertake any direct action to stop it? 

Further discussion

Auschwitz was liberated in 1945 by the Soviet army. Between 1975 and 1979 Cambodia lost an estimated 20 to 25% of their population to genocide. In 1994 more than one million people were killed in the Rwandan genocide. How do you think we can stop genocides from happening?

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