Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Is this any type of life?

washing facility
Prisoners of Auschwitz were allowed two bathroom visits a day: once in the morning and once in the evening. If they were found relieving themselves at any other time, they were punished.

We walked into the bathroom; a long narrow bunker with an equally long concrete slab dotted with 100, 10-inch circles. There were doors at either end.

"Guards would stand at the doors," our guide stated. "From that door one guard would let in 100 people. The moment the first person entered, the guard at the other end started counting down from 10. 'Zehn, neun, acht, seiben, sechs...,' he would shout. They all had to be on their way out by the time he reached 'one', or would be severely punished."

They had to run. They had to run to use the toilet. They only had 10 seconds in which to do so. They had to strip down in front of 99 other prisoners and two guards in order to release whatever meager amount of food or liquid was built up inside them. In 10 seconds.

"The best jobs prisoners had were to work in the lavatories, cleaning the waste," our guide continued. Our eyes widened. "It's true. No guard would come near the lavatories during the day. That allowed the workers to use the toilet whenever they needed, for as long as they needed."

Due to malnutrition, however, many suffered from severe diarrhea. For that reason alone, prisoners all shared a top bunk (read: slat) to sleep on.

sleeping bunkers
Sleeping conditions were made worse by freezing winters, non-insulated bunkers with gaping holes and open space between the roof and outer walls. There were, however, two fireplaces to warm the large, drafty complex. Two fireplaces with an opening so small it barely emitted heat.

I was left to wonder, after having walked the path to the crematorium only a few minutes earlier, were those who faced immediate death after their arrival in Auschwitz the lucky ones?

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