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The Holocaust Revisited: A Retrospective Analysis of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Extermination Complex

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World War II aerial photography, use of,
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The Holocaust Revisited
imagery. All available imagery on Auschwitz acquired between 4 April 1944 and 21 January 1945 was examined.
Background: Construction of the various Auschwitz camps began in spring 1940. Auschwitz I, the so-called Main Camp, was operational by fall of that year. The development of Birkenau (Auschwitz II), began in fall 1941 with Russian prisoners of war as construction crews. The 1. G. Farben industrial facility, referred to as "Bung" (Auschwitz III), was begun at Monowice in April 1941. Expansion of these facilities was virtually continuous until the evacuation of the area by the Nazis in January 1945. The operation of these vast petrochemical facilities was a joint SS and I. G. Farben venture. Farben had full access to a source of slave labor-prisoners from Auschwitz and local British prisoners of war-and the SS received the salaries paid their prisoners.
Crippling the German petrochemical production system was a high Allied priority, so the targeting of the Farben complex was inevitable. The late date of the reconnaissance effort is probably attributable to the plant's production status; it produced no significant amounts of fuel until 1944. Another factor was probably the distance from Allied air bases-about 750 miles from England and 700 miles from Italy.
Photo Evidence: The mission of 4 April 1944 produced very little photographic coverage of the I. G. Farben complex. It was not until the 26 June 1944 mission (Photos 1 & 1A) that an overall view of the complex, both as to extent and purpose, could be interpreted. For our study, however, even the partially successful mission of 4 April provided positive evidence.
Auschwitz I
Background: Details of the origin of the camp have been outlined earlier, but some additional comments are appropriate. It was at this facility that experiments in mass extermination by using Zyklon-B gas were first carried out. Rudolf Hoess, the notorious camp commandant, initially tested the use of that gas on Russian prisoners of war in 1941. The first gas chamber and crematorium, number I by the Nazi numbering system, was later constructed at this camp. The Main Camp penal barracks for problem prisoners (Barracks Block 11), and the medical experimentation barrack located here would both become infamous.
Photo Evidence: Analysis of the facilities at Auschwitz I (Photo 2) combined with the collateral information, corroborate eyewitness accounts of its description. We can identify Gas Chamber and Crematorium I, the Commandant's quarters, the camp headquarters and administration buildings, the prisoner registration building, the individual barrack blocks and the infamous "execution wall" between barrack blocks 10 and 11. This latter facility was used for the exemplary execution of "problem" prisoners. Death was inflicted either by hanging or shooting against the execution wall. In addition to the above, the camp kitchen, guard towers, and the security fencing can all be identified.
On the photography of 4 April 1944, a small vehicle was identified in a specially secured annex adjacent to the Main Camp gas chamber. Eyewitness accounts describe how prisoners arriving in Auschwitz-Birkenau, not knowing they were destined for extermination, were comforted by the presence of a "Red Cross ambulance." In reality, the SS used that vehicle to transport the deadly Zyklon-B crystals. Could this be that notorious vehicle? While conclusive proof is lacking, the vehicle was not present on imagery of 25 August and 13 September 1944 after the extermination facility had been converted to an air raid shelter.3
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3Ibid.

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Posted: May 08, 2007 08:59 AM
Last Updated: Aug 03, 2011 03:11 PM