Auschwitz: Hell\'s Gate

Above you stands an archway of iron with the words Arbeit mact frei.(Encarta) You see your
family get separated into separate lines before you. When you meet the German guard at the front of the
line, the surrealism becomes a reality. The only way out of this hellish place is through the chimneys.(Pettit
80)
Auschwitz was not always the notorious extermination camp that we know it as today. Until 1939,
it was a Polish army camp. When the Germans took Poland, Adolf Eichmann offered to send 17,000
unemployed Jews to work in the new arms factory. Auschwitz stayed just this until March 1941 when
Heinrich Himmler, the leader of two of the Nazi organizations, the Schutzstaffel (SS) and the German
Secret police, the Gestapo, visited the compound. He told the head of the camp that it would be redone and
made into a concentration camp for Soviet political and war criminals. At this time, an adjacent camp was
built, Birkenau.
The first transports arrived at the front gate in early March 1941 just after midnight. Arrivals were
timed so that the 12,000 residents of the adjoining towns would not bare witness to the coming.
By 1943, various resistance groups had sprung up within the compound. These groups helped a
few prisoners escape, who took information of exterminations to the public. Using Zyklon-B, a cyanide
gas, the gas chambers were capable of killing up to 5000 people an hour.(Adler 48-49) This carried on until
January 27, 1945 when the Red Army liberated the abandoned prisoners. There were only 7600 survivors.
Over the 5 year period that Auschwitz was a Nazi extermination camp, as few as 1.5 million and as many
as 4 million people died by gassing, in the crematoria, due to malnutrition, beating or hunger.

Life at Auschwitz
Carrying your heavy bags and huddling with your family you are shoved upon a cattle truck with
approximately 200 other men, women and children. You share on this 3-day ride, only 1 bucket of water
and another bucket for waste.(Herzstein 151) Upon arrival at Auschwitz, you are shoved out of the cattle
car in the middle of the night before gazing spotlights.(Justice 1-2) Everyone is formed into five by five
lines and marched in front of Josef Mengele for "selection". Mengele, the camp doctor, who himself
separated the crowd into three groups, stands before you as beautiful as a statue.(Wiesel 28) The first group
is sent to the gas chambers immediately. These include the old, the young, the injured, the sick or anyone
who needs more help than was usual. Another group, sent with Mengele, will undergo medical experiments
such as surgery without anesthesia and odd experiments to find the limits of the human body. This group is
mostly twins and dwarfs. The lucky ones, the healthy m!
en, are sent to satellite slave labor camps. Each man is numbered and tattooed, on the left forearm. (Justice
1-2) Later, these men will be selected at random for execution.
Even if one did get selected to be one of the slave laborers, their life was no better. They were
subject to two roll calls per day in the open, often taking many hours. If they were not completely
motionless and quiet they were beat down by many guards or just thrown in the crematoriums. Being quiet
and still for this long was hard enough, even for the members of the camp not suffering from the rampant
diarrhea.
If one of the laborers was selected through good behavior and luck, they could become either
kapos (orderlies) or sonderkommandos (workers at the crematoria). Even these selected workers were not
safe from random executions. Kapos would roam the lines during the roll calls and beat anyone who made
a sound, stepped out of line or they just felt like hitting. The sonderkommando had their deeds also. They
would meet new inmate at the trains, escort the doomed to the gas chambers and haul bodies to the
crematoriums. One sonderkommando, Henryk Mandelbaum, tells the story of a usual family\'s first arrival
to the camp:
"When they got off the train, they had to strip in the dressing
room. Whole families went in, supposedly to take showers.
When the chamber was more than half full, they realized that
something was wrong. There was