Work groups in KL Auschwitz

The extermination camp prisoners were also greatly used for free labour. Although it was
more than backbreaking work beyond strength. To organize this work, the Nazis established
commandos id est units to which prisoners were assigned. What exactly did they do?
The commando was a group of workers, which could consist of a few or even a thousand.

Overall, the groups of employees could be divided into four categories. The first was easy
commandos. Its employees dealt with bathhouses, office matters, the kitchen, or the quarter
id est the hospital. Of course, this job was also very demanding. But compared to the others,
it could be called easy.

The best assignment was „Kanada” which is a group of employees dealing with items left by
Jews brought to KL Auschwitz. The name comes from the state of Canada, which at that
time was consociate with great prosperity. According to camp documents, about two
thousand female and male prisoners could work in “Kanada” at its peak.

The second type was the more demanding commandos. The work in them was very
exhausting and involved, for example, demolition or construction of buildings, as well as
building and paving roads.

The third group of employees is the Sonderkommando, the so-called purposeful group. Work
in this group most often ended in death. It was also the most devastating, mainly mentally.
Although this commando was divided into smaller units, their main task was to lead fellow
prisoners to the gas chambers and put them to death. After that they were supposed to burn
the bodies in crematoria or combustion pits. The prisoners assigned to the
Sonderkommando were better nourished and dressed as they could keep the belongings of
the murdered. They were also allocated better food rations. However, the referral to this
group was a death sentence, because, for eyewitnesses to the genocide, the
Sonderkommando crew was to be killed first. It was mainly the Jewish population that was
directed to this work.

This commando is known for one of the biggest rebellions in the entire camp. On October 7,
1944, members of the Sonderkommando partially blew up one of the crematoria and
attempted to escape. Three SS-men suffered during the rebellion. The escape was
unsuccessful, and at the same time, more than four hundred and fifty people died. The four
female prisoners who delivered the explosives were hanged in public a few days before
setting free the camp. Those who survived the Sonderkommando were the first to testify in
the Nuremberg trials.

The last category is the penal company, id est the Strafkompanie. The men’s company was
established in 1940, the women’s company in June 1942. There were people heading it who
somehow rebelled against the rules prevailing in Auschwitz, whether through contact with
the civilian population, attempts to escape, as well as for illegal possession of objects like
photos of relatives. These prisoners could not receive letters, contact other prisoners, and
were completely isolated. Prisoners considered the most dangerous were marked
additionally with red circles on their striped uniforms. They were entrusted with the hardest

work, in the fastest possible time under the watchful eye of SS-men, who made the work
even more difficult.

The stay in this company most often ended in death. One of the most famous events was
the Massacre in Budy, wherein about 90 female prisoners, mostly Jewish women, were
murdered with truncheons and axes.

Our trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau

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