Welcome!

Blog Feed Post

Auschwitz-Birkenau: The Technology of Death

Walking along the railroad tracks up to the main building at Birkenau was chilling. I was about to enter the largest of the 40 Nazi extermination camps and sub-camps that made up the Auschwitz complex, and its reputation preceded it.

Birkenau main gate

Birkenau main gate (click to enlarge)

At first, it doesn’t look like much. Twenty or thirty barracks, some brick, some wood, an electric fence and a few guard towers. Then, as you walk down towards the “selection platform,” a strategically placed area in the middle of the camp where the camp doctor decided who was going directly to the gas chambers and who would be admitted to the camp, it hits you: every two chimneys was a barracks, 400 people in each. When it was fully operational, 175,000 to 250,000 people were imprisoned here each with a life expectancy that could be measured in minutes to months.

Wooden barracks at Birkenau

Wooden barracks at Birkenau (click to enlarge)

I was not prepared for the size of Birkenau or the scale of the industry required to kill this many people in a demoralizing, hopeless way. I was not prepared for the organizational skill required to profit from the plunder, nor was I prepared for the economics of selling human hair and smelting gold and silver from dental fillings. This death factory used every available technology to maximize results, and the efficiency sickened me.

Ruins of the wooden barracks at Birkenau

Ruins of the wooden barracks at Birkenau (click to enlarge)

Tattoo vs. Picture

Photographic prisoner registration

Photographic prisoner registration

According to our guide, in the beginning each prisoner was photographed. There is a room at Auschwitz I now filled with uniforms and pictures and lists of prisoners. But the SS officers had a problem; when prisoners died of starvation or exposure (even within a few weeks), it was difficult to identify the bodies from the pictures. The solution was to tattoo prisoners with identification numbers. This made counting bodies much more efficient.

Selection

The selection platform looking toward the women's camp

The selection platform looking toward the women’s camp (click to enlarge)

In camp center, the selection platform (pictured above) was a place that should never have existed anywhere in the universe. Here, a man (the camp “doctor”) stood and – within seconds – decided who would be admitted to the camp and who would go for immediate “disinfection” – the euphemism for the gas chamber. Approximately 70 percent of deportees were killed within a day of arriving at Birkenau. If you were old, infirm, sick, pregnant or under the age of 14, you were killed the day you arrived. If you were able-bodied and could work, you were admitted to the camp. After learning how the prisoners lived, I’m not sure who got the better end of the deal — those who were instantly killed or those who were worked and slowly starved to death.

The selection platform in use during the 1940s

The selection platform in use during the 1940s (click to enlarge)

Living Conditions

Inside a reproduction of a wooden barracks at Birkenau

Inside a reproduction of a wooden barracks at Birkenau (click to enlarge)

The wooden barracks were the first thing I got to see here, and the description set the tone for the rest of the day. Up to 400 people were forced to live here. The floor was dirt (not concrete as it is today). The walls did not go all the way to the roof, so there was almost no protection from the weather. The heat would be unlivable in the summer and the cold was almost unsurvivable in winter. There were two stoves in each barracks for heating, but they were never used. It was too complicated to organize the distribution of wood or other suitable fuel.

Inside the latrine barracks at Birkenau (notice the walls don't touch the roof)

Inside the latrine barracks at Birkenau (notice the walls don’t touch the roof) (click to enlarge)

Prisoners were not allowed to leave the barracks once they were inside, and there were no sanitary facilities. If you had to relieve yourself, you did it in your clothes or in your bed or wherever you were. There were two trips each day to the latrine. Think about the smell, the disease, the discomfort, the lack of dignity — the level of dehumanization is almost past the point of belief, but the proof is here. It happened, right where I was standing just 72 years ago — inside the length of one human lifetime.

Gas Chambers

The ruins of one of Birkenau's gas chambers

The ruins of one of Birkenau’s gas chambers (click to enlarge)

The Nazis destroyed the gas chambers and crematoria at Birkenau about 10 days before the liberation of the camp. The ruins are still gut-wrenching. Each gas chamber could kill 2,000 people in about 25 minutes. This task was done with a remarkable amount of stagecraft and technique. People were assured that they were being taken to be disinfected before admission to the camp. They were told to remember the number of the hook upon which they hung their clothes. Then, naked, they were herded into the chamber. SS officers used cans of Zyklon B mixed with diatomaceous earth crystals. When the cans were opened, the crystals saturated with hydrocyanide released the poisonous gas. We were told that the lucky ones were the people who were standing close to the openings where the canisters fell. They died in seconds. It took those at the far end of the chamber up to 25 minutes to die.

Cremation

The ovens in Crematorium #1 at Auschwitz I

The ovens in Crematorium #1 at Auschwitz I (click to enlarge)

Then, the bodies had to be removed to the crematorium, where the Nazis could burn about 1,500 bodies per hour. Birkenau was built with the knowledge the Nazis accumulated from Auschwitz Crematorium #1 (pictured above), which had a capacity of only 700 people and far fewer ovens. Even at the capacity of Birkenau, the crematoria were overloaded and the Nazis had to resort to burning bodies in open pits. To this day, when it rains, small bits of bone still occasionally surface in the fields surrounding the camp. It’s hard to find adequate words to describe this.

What I Learned

Ben Golub (14) leaving Birkenau.

Ben Golub (14) leaving Birkenau (click to enlarge)

What motivated men to do this? This is worse than hate, worse than fear, worse than greed or jealousy or anything else I have ever felt. I don’t know how you could justify killing anyone, so I cannot even imagine what inspires a nation to conceive of, fabricate, operationalize and use a killing factory.

The technological efficiency on display here makes this the most organized crime in history. It was sociologically skillful; the Nazis started dismantling the Jews in a methodical way, first by disrupting their businesses, then by disrupting their lives, then by taking their possessions, their dignity and ultimately their lives. But it was also technologically skillful in a way that hit me harder here at Birkenau than even at Auschwitz I. For some, at a death camp where even hope was dead, it was just another day at the office. The SS officers went about their business of killing as many people as they could, as quickly and efficiently as they could.

One day, I will take my children and grandchildren to see this place. And when we turn to leave Birkenau, we will be turning our backs on the Nazis and all they stood for. We will still be here — a living memorial to countless, nameless millions. I will teach them that this kind of evil is never defeated; it just goes into hiding. And at that moment, they will know in a primal, visceral way why we must never forget!

Read the original blog entry...

More Stories By Shelly Palmer

Shelly Palmer is the host of Fox Television’s "Shelly Palmer Digital Living" television show about living and working in a digital world. He is Fox 5′s (WNYW-TV New York) Tech Expert and the host of United Stations Radio Network’s, MediaBytes, a daily syndicated radio report that features insightful commentary and a unique insiders take on the biggest stories in technology, media, and entertainment.

Latest Stories
SYS-CON Events announced today that DatacenterDynamics has been named “Media Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 18th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on June 7–9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. DatacenterDynamics is a brand of DCD Group, a global B2B media and publishing company that develops products to help senior professionals in the world's most ICT dependent organizations make risk-based infrastructure and capacity decisions.
The standardization of container runtimes and images has sparked the creation of an almost overwhelming number of new open source projects that build on and otherwise work with these specifications. Of course, there's Kubernetes, which orchestrates and manages collections of containers. It was one of the first and best-known examples of projects that make containers truly useful for production use. However, more recently, the container ecosystem has truly exploded. A service mesh like Istio addr...
Most DevOps journeys involve several phases of maturity. Research shows that the inflection point where organizations begin to see maximum value is when they implement tight integration deploying their code to their infrastructure. Success at this level is the last barrier to at-will deployment. Storage, for instance, is more capable than where we read and write data. In his session at @DevOpsSummit at 20th Cloud Expo, Josh Atwell, a Developer Advocate for NetApp, will discuss the role and value...
Dynatrace is an application performance management software company with products for the information technology departments and digital business owners of medium and large businesses. Building the Future of Monitoring with Artificial Intelligence Today we can collect lots and lots of performance data. We build beautiful dashboards and even have fancy query languages to access and transform the data. Still performance data is a secret language only a couple of people understand. The more busi...
New competitors, disruptive technologies, and growing expectations are pushing every business to both adopt and deliver new digital services. This ‘Digital Transformation’ demands rapid delivery and continuous iteration of new competitive services via multiple channels, which in turn demands new service delivery techniques – including DevOps. In this power panel at @DevOpsSummit 20th Cloud Expo, moderated by DevOps Conference Co-Chair Andi Mann, panelists examined how DevOps helps to meet the de...
Nicolas Fierro is CEO of MIMIR Blockchain Solutions. He is a programmer, technologist, and operations dev who has worked with Ethereum and blockchain since 2014. His knowledge in blockchain dates to when he performed dev ops services to the Ethereum Foundation as one the privileged few developers to work with the original core team in Switzerland.
"When you think about the data center today, there's constant evolution, The evolution of the data center and the needs of the consumer of technology change, and they change constantly," stated Matt Kalmenson, VP of Sales, Service and Cloud Providers at Veeam Software, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 18th Cloud Expo, held June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
Cloud-enabled transformation has evolved from cost saving measure to business innovation strategy -- one that combines the cloud with cognitive capabilities to drive market disruption. Learn how you can achieve the insight and agility you need to gain a competitive advantage. Industry-acclaimed CTO and cloud expert, Shankar Kalyana presents. Only the most exceptional IBMers are appointed with the rare distinction of IBM Fellow, the highest technical honor in the company. Shankar has also receive...
Today, we have more data to manage than ever. We also have better algorithms that help us access our data faster. Cloud is the driving force behind many of the data warehouse advancements we have enjoyed in recent years. But what are the best practices for storing data in the cloud for machine learning and data science applications?
Andi Mann, Chief Technology Advocate at Splunk, is an accomplished digital business executive with extensive global expertise as a strategist, technologist, innovator, marketer, and communicator. For over 30 years across five continents, he has built success with Fortune 500 corporations, vendors, governments, and as a leading research analyst and consultant.
Bill Schmarzo, author of "Big Data: Understanding How Data Powers Big Business" and "Big Data MBA: Driving Business Strategies with Data Science" is responsible for guiding the technology strategy within Hitachi Vantara for IoT and Analytics. Bill brings a balanced business-technology approach that focuses on business outcomes to drive data, analytics and technology decisions that underpin an organization's digital transformation strategy.
DevOpsSummit New York 2018, colocated with CloudEXPO | DXWorldEXPO New York 2018 will be held November 11-13, 2018, in New York City. Digital Transformation (DX) is a major focus with the introduction of DXWorldEXPO within the program. Successful transformation requires a laser focus on being data-driven and on using all the tools available that enable transformation if they plan to survive over the long term.
Headquartered in Plainsboro, NJ, Synametrics Technologies has provided IT professionals and computer systems developers since 1997. Based on the success of their initial product offerings (WinSQL and DeltaCopy), the company continues to create and hone innovative products that help its customers get more from their computer applications, databases and infrastructure. To date, over one million users around the world have chosen Synametrics solutions to help power their accelerated business or per...
DXWorldEXPO LLC announced today that ICOHOLDER named "Media Sponsor" of Miami Blockchain Event by FinTechEXPO. ICOHOLDER gives detailed information and help the community to invest in the trusty projects. Miami Blockchain Event by FinTechEXPO has opened its Call for Papers. The two-day event will present 20 top Blockchain experts. All speaking inquiries which covers the following information can be submitted by email to [email protected] Miami Blockchain Event by FinTechEXPOalso offers sp...
Sanjeev Sharma Joins November 11-13, 2018 @DevOpsSummit at @CloudEXPO New York Faculty. Sanjeev Sharma is an internationally known DevOps and Cloud Transformation thought leader, technology executive, and author. Sanjeev's industry experience includes tenures as CTO, Technical Sales leader, and Cloud Architect leader. As an IBM Distinguished Engineer, Sanjeev is recognized at the highest levels of IBM's core of technical leaders.