Cells Inside Block 11 at Auschwitz I

Prison cell #27 where first gassing of humans with Zyklon-B took place

In October 1998, I took a tour of the Auschwitz I camp and saw the inside of Block 11 where there are prison cells in the basement.

According to my tour guide, on Sept. 3, 1941, the Nazis conducted the first mass killing of people using Zyklon-B in prison cell number 27 in Block 11. Adolf Eichmann was visiting the Auschwitz camp on that day, although Commandant Rudolf Höss was away on business, according to the Auschwitz Museum guidebook. Since 1939, Adolf Eichmann had been the head of Department IV, B4 in the Reich Central Security Office (RSHA); Eichmann's department was in charge of getting rid of the Jews in Europe. Karl Fritzsch, the camp commander and the deputy of Rudolf Höss, took it upon himself to carry out this first gassing, while his superior officer, Rudolf Höss, was away.

The wooden door of the cell where the gassing took place is shown in the photo above; notice the glass peephole in the door. Tourists are not permitted to see the interior of the cell.

The tour guide told me that the room was sealed by packing dirt into the concrete well around the window outside; then the prisoners were shoved inside, Zyklon-B crystals were thrown in through the door, and the door was quickly shut.

The photo below shows the exterior of Block 11; concrete wells around the basement windows let in some light, but prevented the prisoners from looking out. The well around the window of Cell 27 was filled with dirt in order to seal the room for the gassing of the prisoners.

Concrete wells let in light to basement prison cells

The first tests using Zyklon-B had been done in August 1941 in one of these basement cells. These experiments were done long before the "Final Solution of the Jewish Question" was planned at the Wannsee conference on January 20, 1942. Zyklon-B was, at that time, being used extensively in the Auschwitz concentration camp, and at most of the other camps, as an insecticide to kill body lice in clothing in an effort to prevent typhus epidemics. During World War I, there were devastating typhus epidemics on the eastern front in what is now Poland, so the Nazis took special precautions to prevent epidemics in the crowded concentration camps.

The subjects of this first mass killing on September 3, 1941 were 600 Russian POWs and 250 sick prisoners. According to my tour guide, testing done in the previous months had determined the right amount of Zyklon-B needed to kill a room full of people. In a book entitled "Anatomy of the Auschwitz Death Camp," edited by Israel Gutman and Michael Berenbaum, it was stated that the murder of 600 Soviet Prisoners of War and about 250 sick prisoners took place in Block 11 between September 3rd and September 5th. The authors also quoted from a report by the prisoner underground which said that 600 Soviet prisoners and 200 Poles were gassed in Block 11 on the night of September 5th and 6th.

Starvation cell where prisoners were left to die

Pictured above is prison cell No. 21, which is similar to the one where the Zyklon-B experiments were carried out. This cell, and also cell number 27, were called starvation cells because prisoners, who had been condemned to death, were kept there without food and water until they died. This cell has two religious pictures scratched into the wall by a Polish political prisoner, using only his fingernails. The wooden door of the cell can be seen on the right; notice the glass covering the upper half of the door where there are more scratchings made with fingernails.

Cell # 18 where Father Kolbe died

It was in cell No. 18, one of the starvation cells, that Father Maksymilian Kolbe, a Franciscan friar, was kept until he was almost dead. According to my tour guide, Father Kolbe was taken out of his cell after three weeks and given a more merciful death by an injection to the heart.

Father Kolbe was arrested by the Gestapo on February 17, 1941 because he had hidden 2,000 Jews in his friary and because he broadcast reports over the radio condemning Nazi activities during World War II. On May 25, 1941, he was sent to the main Auschwitz camp as a political prisoner.

The following quote is from Wikipedia:

In July 1941, a man from Kolbe's barrack had vanished, prompting SS-Hauptsturmführer Karl Fritsch, the Lagerführer (i.e., the camp commander), to pick 10 men from the same barrack to be starved to death in Block 11 (notorious for torture), in order to deter further escape attempts. (The man who had disappeared was later found drowned in the camp latrine.) One of the selected men, Franciszek Gajowniczek, cried out, lamenting his family, and Kolbe volunteered to take his place.

Gajowniczek was a Polish political prisoner who had been arrested because he was aiding the Jewish resistance in Poland, although he was not a Jew himself.

Father Kolbe was canonized a saint in the Catholic Church on Oct. 10, 1982 in a ceremony held at the Auschwitz I camp. The cell where Father Kolbe was imprisoned has been decorated with a commemorative plaque and flowers. Note the window at the top of the photo; you can see a tourist standing in the courtyard between Block 10 and Block 11.

Standing Cells in Block 11

The Black Wall

Kitchen & other buildings in Auschwitz I

Barracks Buildings in Auschwitz 1

Old Sentry Box and camp kitchen

Commandant's house & old theater

Gas Chamber

Introduction to Auschwitz I

Entrance to Visitor's Center

Inside the Visitor's Center

Entrance through "Arbeit Macht Frei" Gate

Auschwitz Museum Exhibits

Swimming Pool

Block 11 - the camp prison

Back to Photo Gallery 3


This page was last updated on March 6, 2008