Railroad siding near Birkenau where the Jews disembarked from trains

In 1942, a wooden ramp was built at Auschwitz, next to a railroad siding that split off from the main railroad line, which ran from Krakow to Vienna. This was the Judenrampe, where the Jews who were brought to Auschwitz-Birkenau, disembarked from cattle cars on freight trains carrying from 2,000 to 3,000 people. The photo above shows the railroad siding. The wooden ramp is now gone.

Cattle car used to transport Jews to Auschwitz-Birkenau

Railroad siding where Jews disembarked from trains

The location of the Judenrampe became an official Memorial Site in early 2005 when 5 markers were set up along the tracks, including one in honor of the French Jews who were sent to Birkenau. Between February 1942 and the end of April 1944, when the railroad tracks were extended inside the Birkenau camp, there were approximately 500,000 Jews who arrived at this ramp. According to the Auschwitz Museum, at least 75% of them were immediately gassed.

In the photo above, a tour group reads the sign placed at this location, called the Judenrampe, where the Jews arrived by train to be gassed at Birkenau before the tracks were extended inside the camp in 1944. The photo below shows the sign beside the tracks.

Sign in three languages at the Judenrampe

Note the drawing on the sign in the photo above. It shows the gate house at Birkenau, as it looked in 1943, before the building was extended on both sides.

The Judenrampe was used from February 1942 until the first of May 1944. At the end of April 1944, the extermination of the Jews from Hungary began. By that time, a railroad spur line had been extended inside the camp, all the way to the gas chambers in Krema II and Krema III.

One of the first prisoners to arrive at the ramp was Philip Riteman who told a group of students at Annapolis Regional Academy in Nova Scotia in May 2007 the following about his trip to Auschwtz-Birkeanu:

After a week, the train comes to a stop along a huge platform, a mile long and four to five hundred feet wide.

"I see a big sign 'Work makes you free.' Auschwitz-Birkenau. I never heard of it. I didn't know even of its existing."

The full article about Riteman's talk to the students is on this web site.

Riteman overestimated the size of the platform, which was actually about 500 yards long and 3 to 4 yards wide, according to the Auschwitz Museum. In another speech to another group of students, Riteman said that the platform was made of concrete. The ramp was near the main Auschwitz camp, but the sign over the gate that reads "Arbeit Macht Frei" was not visible from the ramp. Riteman told another group of students that the words "Arbeit Macht Frei" were on signs held by Auschwitz inmates at the ramp.

The photo below shows two original boxcars used to transport the Jews to their death. The railroad tracks are now overgrown with weeds. When I visited this site in October 2005, there was a new house under construction right across from the tracks. Farther down the tracks is a series of factory buildings that have been abandoned.

Original box cars used to bring Jews to the gas chambers at Birkenau

Two original box cars at the Judenrampe

The trains bringing the Jews to Auschwitz-Birkenau were made up of 50 cattle cars, each of which held 60 to 100 Jews, depending on the size of the car. A few passenger trains arrived, carrying the VIP prisoners, but 90% of the victims arrived in cattle cars.

When a train arrived, the SS men unlocked the cars and barked at the passengers to get out quickly. They were ordered to form two lines, one line of men and the other line of women and children. Then each line passed in front of SS officers, who stood on the ramp, resplendent in their black SS dress uniforms. Men and women who were young, healthy, and able to work, were waved to the right, while the old, the sick and the children were waved to the left.

Dr. Josef Mengele, who arrived at Birkenau in May 1943, was one of the SS men who selected the prisoners for the gas chamber.

This selection process would take around two hours. Then the able-bodied prisoners would be marched off to the Auschwitz I camp where they would be registered.

After the chosen few were out of sight, the group on the left, who were not considered fit for work, were forced to climb a set of removable stairs into the open bed of a dump truck, crowding 100 people into each one. The trucks would then drive to the Birkenau camp and quickly return for another load of victims.

The dead, the dying and the invalids were then removed from the cattle cars and thrown onto a dump truck, all jumbled together. Then a group of prisoners would enter the empty cars and remove the luggage. Before the Sauna building with its disinfection chambers was built in 1943 at Birkenau, the luggage went to the main Auschwitz camp where it was sorted and deloused in 19 disinfection chambers in the administration building.

Rudolf Vrba was a Slovakian Jew who was one of the first to arrive at Auschwitz. He was assigned to work on the Judenrampe, removing the luggage from the trains; this job allowed him to estimate the number of Jews who were being gassed immediately upon arrival. Along with another inmate, Alfred Wetzler, he escaped from the Birkenau camp in April 1944, just before the Hungarian Jews were scheduled to be deported to their deaths in the gas chambers. His report about the gas chambers at the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp was the first to reach the Allies.

Rudolf Vrba - born 11 Sept. 1924, died 27 March 2006

Before the four large gas chambers in Krema II, Krema III, Krema IV and Krema V were put into use in the Spring and Summer of 1943, the Jews were gassed in two old farm houses located just outside the Birkenau camp. The Jews that weren't gassed immediately lived in the barracks at Birkenau and waited for further selections, which were made periodically. According to the Auschwitz Museum, there were 100,000 prisoners still alive in Birkenau in May 1944 when this ramp ceased to be used.

Across from the railroad tracks are some abandoned buildings near the Judenrampe, which are shown in the photo below.

Abandoned buildings across from the Judenrampe tracks, Oct. 2005

Old buildings across from the Judenrampe tracks, Oct. 2005

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This page was last updated on June 1, 2009