Barracks at Birkenau

Early morning 1998 photo of Quarantine camp at Birkenau

The photograph above shows the wooden barrack buildings in BIIa, the Quarantine section, at Auschwitz II, also known as Birkenau. These are prefabricated horse barns, typically used in concentration camps, and also for army barracks, because they were easy to put up and to take down. In the background, you can see the vast forest of brick chimneys, which is all that is left of the barracks buildings on the north side of the Birkenau camp. The Quarantine section faces a busy public road that runs north and south past the Birkenau camp.

The interior of one of these barrack buildings is shown in the photo below, taken in 2005. The brick structure running down the center of the barracks is the stove.

Interior of barracks with brick stove down the center

Sign on rafter inside barrack building.

The sign on the rafter inside one of the barrack buildings reads "Sauberheit = Gesundheit." In English this means "cleanliness is equal to good health." The Jews who had to live in these filthy barracks were offended by such signs since it was impossible for them to maintain any semblance of cleanliness. They were expected to pick the lice off themselves because "One louse means your death" according to another sign. Particularly offensive was a sign in the barracks which reminded the Jews to take off their caps inside the building.

The photo below shows a painting on the ceiling of one of the barracks buildings at Birkenau. It depicts workers digging the Königsgraben canal.

Painting done by an inmate on the ceiling of a barrack building

Photo Credit: Bryan Lynch

The Königsgraben canal was being dug at the western end of the Birkenau camp in order to drain the water, since the camp was built on swampy ground. A sign in the barracks reads as follows:

A special penal company (Strafkompanie) for men was housed in this barrack from May 1942 to July 1943. These were mainly political prisoners, people for some reason considered particularly dangerous to the Third Reich, prisoners found guilty of breaking camp discipline, or those who were thought to be participating in the camp's underground movement or planning to escape. They were kept in complete isolation from the other prisoners; even the daily roll-call and distribution of rations were done separately in an enclosed yard next to the barrack. Conditions in this unit were extremely harsh. Punishments were severe, the workload murderous, and food rations reduced--all leading to high mortality rate. One of the tasks of this unit was to dig the main drainage ditch (Königsgraben). An original drawing of this made by an unknown prisoner still remains on the ceiling of this barrack.

Early morning 2005 photo of Quarantine camp

Pictured above is sector BIIa, the Quarantine camp, taken from the tower of the gate house in October 2005. Comparing this photo with the one at the top of the page, you can see that display boards have been added, for the purpose of explaining everything to visitors.

The information on all the displays makes it clear that the Nazis did nothing humane: the prisoners were initially housed in the Quarantine camp in order to establish discipline, not to stop the spread of disease, according to the display board. The hair was cut from the heads of the incoming prisoners to humiliate them, not to control the lice which spreads typhus. Practically every sign in the Birkenau camp makes a point of mentioning the gas chambers and emphasizing the fact that the Jews were sent immediately to the gas chamber, rather than being registered in the camp. There are no death records for the Jew who were not registered.

During World War I, four million people died from typhus in Poland, and fifty million world-wide died from the Spanish flu. At Birkenau, there was a grave danger of an epidemic spreading to the SS guards in the camp, or even to the German soldiers fighting on the Eastern front. This was the reason for isolating new prisoners in the Quarantine barracks for a period of time.

On December 28, 1942 a directive was issued to all the Nazi concentration camps which included this statement: "The Reichsführer SS [Heinrich Himmler] has ordered that the death rate absolutely must be reduced." This order referred to the death rate from typhus and other diseases.

The photo below shows the bunk beds in one of the buildings in the Quarantine camp. Notice the uneven construction of the bunks. The bouquet of flowers is on the brick stove which runs the length of the building. The only windows were near the roof.

Flowers left by a visitor in barracks building

Men and women used the same latrines in the Quarantine camp, one of which is shown in the photo below. The toilets were nothing but holes in a concrete structure set above the ground. There was no pit below the latrine; it was only as deep as the height of the concrete structure. The prisoners had to clean out the latrines when they were full. There was no toilet paper available and the wash rooms were in another building.

Latrine in Birkenau Quarantine camp

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