The Central Sauna
Birkenau Building called
"die zentrale Sauna" by the SS
The building that the SS called "die
zentrale Sauna" was the location of the shower room. In
the photo above, the floor-to-ceiling windows on the far right
are on the outside wall of the shower room. The three windows
on the left are the windows of the drying-off room. There were
no towels provided, and the prisoners had to wait in this room
until their bodies were dry after taking a hot shower.
The shower room is shown in the photo
below. Note that the 50 shower heads, that were once on the ceiling
of this room, have long since been removed.
Shower Room in the
Visitors must walk on a glass floor that
has been installed so as to preserve the original concrete floors
in this building. A railing, which can be seen on the right-hand
side in the photo above, prevents visitors from walking on the
floor of the shower room. The photo on the wall in the background
shows a group of women prisoners in the shower room. The shower
room is surprisingly small, considering that this is such a huge
After their shower, the incoming women
prisoners would be given clothing that had been taken from the
victims who had arrived on a previous transport. This clothing
had been deloused in the steam chambers in the building and most
of the dresses had suffered damage from the hot steam. As a result,
the women prisoners were typically dressed in tattered clothing.
In those days, people dressed up for
travel, and many of the female victims arrived at Birkenau wearing
fancy silk dresses and high-heeled shoes, that were totally unsuitable
as concentration camp attire. A few women were lucky enough to
be issued a striped prison uniform which consisted of a skirt
and a shirt that resembled a jacket; the uniforms were made out
of a coarse material like denim. There were summer and winter
uniforms, with the winter version being made of heavier material.
The men mostly wore the striped prison uniforms.
The two photos below show original signs
on the wall which can still be seen in the Sauna building. The
first sign says "Desinfizierte Wäsche." Before
their shower, the prisoners had to first be submerged into a
tub of disinfectant to kill any germs or lice on their bodies.
The second sign says "Brausen" which means Showers
in English. The yellow and black stripes alert visitors that
the doorway is very low because people were shorter back in those
Sign on the door into
the disinfection washroom
Sign over the door
into the showers
The incoming prisoners entered the Sauna
building through a door located at the northern end of the building;
this door faces east. Inside this door is a huge waiting room
where the new prisoners were first registered and then told to
undress. Now completely naked, they were herded down a long hallway
in the center of the building. On the right-hand side of this
hallway were iron chambers, or autoclaves, which were used to
steam the clothing in order to kill the lice that spreads typhus.
The photo below shows the hallway through
the building with steam chambers along the wall on one side.
In this photo you can see that the chambers were installed in
the wall so that the clothes could be put in on one side and
then taken out on the other. This prevented the contamination
of the clean side where the deloused clothing was removed. On
the other side of the wall shown in the photo below was another
identical hallway with doors opening into the steam chambers.
Steam chambers with
openings on both sides of a wall
At the end of the hallway was a small
room where the women had all their body hair shaved off by male
barbers while the SS men assigned to this building watched. This
was an effort to control lice which hides in body hair. The barbers
also shaved the men's hair in this room, according to a sign
in the building.
After being shorn of all their hair,
the prisoners proceeded into the next room, called the Untersuchungsraum.
This was where they had to undergo a humiliating search of all
their body cavities by an SS man. The search was for hidden diamonds
or gold which some of the victims tried to smuggle into the camp,
thinking that they could buy more favorable treatment. From this
room, the prisoners proceeded to the disinfection tubs which
were right next to the shower room.
After their shower, the victims then
entered another hallway that was on the other side of the hallway
where they had entered. At the end of this hallway was another
large waiting room. On the north side of the waiting room was
a little room where the women were given their prisoner clothing.
On the south side of the waiting room was the room where the
men received their new clothing. The prisoners then exited the
building through two doors which were on the east side of the
south wing of the building.
According to Elizabeth Mann, an Auschwitz
survivor who spoke to visitors at the Museum of Tolerance in
the Simon Wiesenthal Center when I visited Los Angeles, the female
prisoners at Birkenau were given a shower periodically in the
Sauna, but they never knew whether gas or water would come out.
According to Ms. Mann, prisoners were sometimes gassed in the
shower room of the Sauna.
For fifty years, the Central Sauna building
was closed to visitors. Now it is being used as museum space,
as the two photos below show.
Items taken from female
victims on display in the Sauna
Photos found at Birkenau
are displayed in the Sauna Building
The photo above shows a display of family
photographs found at the Birkenau camp. Behind this wall of photos
are more displays of pictures. The floor in this room has been
completely covered with green glass so that it gives one the
sensation of walking on water. The display is reflected in the
glass on the floor, so that it looks like a reflection in water.
Walking up to this wall is like walking into a swimming pool,
a very disconcerting experience.
This page was last updated on June 18,