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  • James Flerlage

Auschwitz I Block 4 Extermination Exhibit - Part 1: Train Routes and Memorials

Updated: May 30, 2023

Auschwitz I Block 4 Extermination Exhibit Entrance

Auschwitz Block 4

Auschwitz I Block 4 holds the Extermination Exhibit; in this exhibit, the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum gets right to the point. Parts of history may call Auschwitz a concentration or death camp; the Third Reich also called it an “evacuation center.” The bottom line is that the Nazis designed Auschwitz to murder millions as efficiently as possible. As such, Auschwitz became the site of the largest genocide in the history of humanity.

Auschwitz I Block 4 Extermination Exhibit Entrance (backside of building)

Auschwitz Block 4

There is no question that Auschwitz was the extermination center for those of the Jewish faith, but it also exterminated human beings from various religions, ethnicities, politics, militaries and races. My posts about Auschwitz-Birkenau will emphasize that this “camp” was nothing more than a sprawling complex designed to dehumanize, torture, and murder.

Auschwitz I Block 4 Building View

Auschwitz Block 4

The Nazis considered every aspect of their plan, accounting for every detail.

From the race and purity laws; to the confiscation of Jewish property, finances, and businesses; the creation of the ghettos; the systematic starvation, privation, and depravity; International transportation and logistics planning; the experimentation of killing methods; the engineering of the camps and its death factories; to the selection and killing process.

The Nazis designed each step of their meticulous plan, over a multi-year process to kill as many human beings as possible either by scientifically engineered efficiencies or brute force. And as the plan evolved, the Nazis engineered an extermination method designed to reduce cost, ease the burden on their soldiers and staff, with utmost efficiency.

Education is awareness and awareness is tantamount to prevention.

Our guide, Lukas, as well as the placards and literature provided at the museum, along with other guides you could hear throughout the tours, emphasized the need for preventing genocide from ever happening again, anywhere in the world.

The tour gives you a historical perspective and impactful details because you are standing in Auschwitz. I felt immersed from the moment we walked through the gate at Auschwitz I, and the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum staff wasted zero time unraveling and educating visitors on the "how did this happen" question so many generations have asked.

Our Guide, Lukas, Shows Us a Map of the Europe's

Train Routes to Auschwitz-Birkenau

Map of Train Routes to Auschwitz

The process of organizing train deportations to Auschwitz involved several steps:

Identification and Selection

The Nazis implemented various methods to identify individuals they deemed undesirable or enemies of the state. These included Jews, Romani people, political dissidents, homosexuals, disabled individuals, and others. Once identified, they were rounded up and gathered in ghettos or detention centers.

Ghettos and Transit Camps

In many cases, the Nazis forced Jews and other targeted groups into ghettos within occupied territories. These ghettos served as temporary holding areas before deportation to concentration camps. From the ghettos, the Nazis transported people to transit camps, where they awaited further transfer to extermination camps like Auschwitz.

Deportation Timeline and Numbers

Deportation Timeline and Numbers

Train Scheduling and Logistics

The SS (Schutzstaffel), specifically the SS-Totenkopfverbände (Death's Head Units), worked with Reich Security Main Office, the Reich Transport Ministry, and the Reich Foreign Office, to organize the logistics of train deportations, dubbed "special transports," across Europe.

They were responsible for the administration and management of concentration and extermination camps. They coordinated the scheduling of trains, the number of deportees per transport, and the availability of resources required for mass killings.

Deportation Process

Once the trains were ready, the deportees were crammed into cattle cars, often overcrowded and lacking basic facilities. The conditions inside these cars were inhumane, with limited ventilation, extreme temperatures, little access to food or water, and a bucket for human waste. The deportees were stripped of their possessions and subjected to dehumanizing conditions during the journey.

Number of Deportees to Auschwitz

Number of Deportees to Auschwitz

Secrecy and Deception

The Nazis often employed deception to keep the deportees unaware of their final destination and the true nature of their fate. They used euphemisms, such as "resettlement" or "labor camps," to mislead the victims about their intended destination.

Arrival at Auschwitz

Upon arrival at Auschwitz, the SS guards and Sonderkommando unloaded the train cars and subjected the deportees to a selection process. SS doctors and officials decided who would be sent directly to the gas chambers for immediate extermination versus those temporarily spared for forced labor.

Closeup Image of Europe's

Train Routes to Auschwitz-Birkenau

Holocaust Train Map

The exact details of the train deportations varied over time, as did the transportation locations and methods (passenger or freight cars, trucks, and vans). However, the overall objective was efficiently transporting thousands of people to extermination camps like Auschwitz to facilitate the Nazis' genocidal plans. I will write more about the Reichsbahn (the German National Railway) in future posts.

Image of Deportation of Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz

Hungarian Jews Being Deported

Arrival of Hungarian Jews at Auschwitz

Arrival of Hungarian Jews at Auschwitz

Our guide, Lukas, explained the exhibit prior to our entering Block 4. Once inside, we saw the deportee maps, learned about the expanse of transportation systems across Europe, heard an overview of the extermination process, and viewed a number portrait-sized images of deportees going to the trains and arriving at Auschwitz.

As if telling a story, this first part of the exhibit ends with a memorial to those who died at the hands of the Nazis. It is an large, clear urn in an airtight case, with the years 1940-1945 inscribed on a marble pillar where the ashes are so reverently kept.

Memorial of Ashes to Those Murdered in Auschwitz

Urn and Ashes Memorial at Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum

My next post, Auschwitz I Block 4 Extermination Exhibit - Part 2: Models and Artifacts, I will write about the model and artifacts located the second half of the exhibit.


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