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


World War II aerial photography, use of,
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The Holocaust Revisited
Deactivation and Dismantling of the Complex
Background: When imagery of Birkenau was next acquired, the operational status of the camp had changed radically. By 29 November 1944, the Nazi war effort on all fronts was on the verge of collapse. A dramatic though futile revolt of the Sonderkommando had occurred on T October 1944 at Gas Chamber and Crematorium IN"." Extermination at Birkenau was officially terminated on 3 November 1944. The first stages of evacuation of the prisoners and the technical equipment began shortly thereafter.
Photo Evidence: Photography of 29 November and 21 December 1944 enables us to monitor the progress of the Nazi evacuation efforts (Photo 8). For the first time since Allied photography had been acquired, no train is located in the Birkenau railhead. The exterior of all extermination facilities, with the exception of Gas Chamber and Crematorium IV destroyed on T October 1944, appear to be intact. The dismantling of Section III of Birkenau has begun.
On imagery acquired on 21 December 1944, the progress of the evacuation effort is clearly discernible. The electrified fence around Section III and the guard towers there have been dismantled. The former location of the various barrack blocks and support buildings can be identified. The light snow cover provides an aid to our interpretation efforts by highlighting soil marks and depressions, making it easier to identify man-made disturbances. There is a clear view of Gas Chamber and Crematorium IV's former location." Additionally, Barracks Block B I1/C 11 has been destroyed, probably by fire. We were able to find no reference to this event in the collateral material.
Photo 9 details Nazi efforts to dismantle the technical equipment at Gas Chambers and Crematoria 11 and 111. We can trace the dismantling of the special security fencing around these installations, the removal of the roofs and the underground dressing rooms. the dismantling of the chimneys, and the filling of the pit to the rear of Gas Chamber and Crematorium 111. As far as we know, this is a unique photo of that activity.
Background: The final period of Auschwitz is that immediately prior to the evacuation of January 18-21, 1945. By that time, the Nazis faced defeat on every front and were trying desperately to erase all traces of the extermination program. When prisoners could not be evacuated, their destruction was the alternative. Many of the Auschwitz facilities had, in fact, been dismantled and shipped to Germany for use in other concentration camps.
Photo Evidence: The heavy bomb damage inflicted upon the 1. G. Farben complex is visible in Photo 10. This 14 January 1945 imagery revealed more than 940 bomb craters and 44 damaged buildings at that facility.
The camp at Buna (Photo 11), is still operational as evidenced by the melting snow on the barrack block roofs. Cleared footpaths and streets are further evidence of movement in and around the compound.
Auschwitz I is also occupied on 14 January 1945 (Photo 12). It was the last camp to be evacuated. Snow melt on the roofs indicates that the barracks remain occupied,
" The Sonderkommando was a special unit of prisoners forced by the Nazis to assist in the extermination activities, especially in the disposal of bodies. Themselves marked for extermination, one group attempted to rebel. Although they succeeded in destroying Gas Chamber and Crematorium IV, they were all killed. " See The Death Factory, pp. 261-263 and German Crimes in Poland, Vol. I, pp. 90-92.

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Posted: May 08, 2007 08:59 AM
Last Updated: Aug 03, 2011 03:15 PM