This week marks the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, the most notorious of all the concentration camps. It consisted of Auschwitz I (the main camp located in Oswiecim), Auschwitz II-Birkenau (which was both a concentration and extermination camp), Auschwitz III-Monowitz (a labor camp established in order to provide staff for a factory owned by the chemical conglomerate IG Farben), and dozens of subcamps. Originally a camp for Polish political prisoners, its inmates would eventually consist of Jews, Soviet prisoners of war, Gypsies, and other Europeans. Commanded by Rudolph Hoss from May 1940 to January 27, 1945, Auschwitz held at least 1.3 million inmates, of which 1.1
million would perish.
Most of the inmates at Auschwitz died in the gas chambers. The other inmates were either shot or beaten to death, while others died of starvation, exhaustion, disease, or from being subject to medical experiments.
Although medical experiments were carried out at other concentration camps, those done at Auschwitz were the most infamous, especially if they were conducted by Dr. Josef Mengele, a.k.a. the Angel of Death. Mengele believed that such experiments were the key to unlocking the secrets of genetics, and in order to so, twins became the ideal (and hence most frequently used) guinea pigs for his experiments. These experiments consisted of injections (either with various substances or pathogens), unnecessary surgery, body probes, taking blood samples, and attempts to change the eye color of various inmates via injection or eye drops.
In addition to his experiments, Mengele had to tend to the sick, a task that would result in not healing but death for the inmates. According to an inmate who had been transferred from Treblinka, Mengele would approach those who were ill and ask them how they wanted to die. Most of them were sent to the gas chambers.
Mengele was also involved in the selection process for the newly arrived inmates, thus deciding who would live and who would die. Mengele also decided to be the God of the Jews at Auschwitz. When it was Yom Kippur Day, Mengele (referring to a Jewish prayer stating that on the day of judgment the flock would pass underneath the rod of the shepherd who then decided which sheep would live) had one of the camp’s guards attach a piece of wood to a goal post, and then had a group of two thousand Jewish boys walk underneath it. Those whose heads touched the level of the marker would die, and those whose heads didn’t would live.
As the Soviets approached Auschwitz, Mengele tried to complete as much research as possible before trying to escape. Not only was he worried about being captured, but also because he feared his research would wind up in Soviet hands. Mengele managed to flee to South America, where he died in 1979.
Auschwitz was liberated on January 27, 1945, thus ending the horror for the surviving inmates. Hoss and various other SS personnel stationed there were brought to justice, and most of whom were executed for their crimes.
Auschwitz is a main symbol of the Holocaust, and the day of its liberation became International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Thus, those who died in the Holocaust, as well as those who survived, should be remembered.