Concentration Camps of WWII -- Term Paper

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"Some Holocaust survivors have said that not only did the barbed-wire surrounding Auschwitz tremble and howl, but also the tortured earth itself moaned with the voices of the victims" (

The first waves of prisoners arrived at Auschwitz in March, 1942, and from there on trains filled with people arrived on a regular basis, with the last years of the war seeing tens of thousands of prisoners arriving every day. Once inside Auschwitz prisoners would have their names forgotten as they received a number that was tattooed on their arms in return. The process of being a prisoner inside of the camp was extremely dehumanizing, as from the very first moments of their journey to a work camp people were put into cattle-cars and forced to stay there for prolonged periods of time and in inhumane conditions.

Even when they entered the camp, they did not know for sure if they would remain in the complex or if they would simply cross it in their journey toward gas chambers. Concentration camp prisoners lived in extreme conditions as they struggle to survive over the day.

For example, Jack Oran, a Holocaust survivor, relates: "Everyone worked so hard, got beaten up…and came back to the camp -- the exhaustion alone pushed him to the bunk to lie down and sleep throughout the night and get enough strength so that s/he might be able to do that again tomorrow. & #8230;in the morning, sixty percent of the six people [in the bunk] did not wake up. The other forty percent went over the pockets of the dead people to find a piece of bread…the hygienic condition was very, very poor in that period. I remember that I searched a dead body in the bunk and I found a piece of bread. That piece of bread was crawling with lice and you shook them off the bread and put it in your mouth and ate it. We all were crawling with lice. Taking a shower was not an option. To get out in the morning, to walk toward the barrack where there is water, running water & endash; you didn't want to walk through mud. If you walked through the mud you probably lost a shoe and then you had to go barefoot. So it would be damned if I do and damned if I don't. Those were the conditions." (

Auschwitz initially served as a concentration camp for Polish individuals whom the Nazis would detain because of the supposed threat they represented. At the apogee of the Third Reich German occupied territory contained numerous concentration camps that were categorized in accordance with the prisoners that were expected to reside in them. Camps were designed for prisoners of war, for transit, and for putting people to death. In their initial press releases regarding concentration camps, the Nazis claimed that it would be dangerous for society as a whole if the prisoners they kept were to be released.

Influential German individuals such as Heinrich Himmler, in charge of the SS, contradicted most stories related to conditions in the concentration camps through claiming that prisoners were actually favored during their detention. Reality was however completely different.

Guards would apply unnecessary punishments and executed people for no actual purpose. Prisoners were given a set of clothes at the moment of their arrival and were required to wear them all across their stay in the camp (the Holocaust: Lessons for Humanity, 2004, 32).

The Nazis were not satisfied with robbing the Jewish people of their lifelong fortunes and their lives. In addition to murdering Jews, the Nazis took advantage of the situation to perform various experiments on their prisoners. The experiments had been initially intended to help Germans understand how the human body works in a range of circumstances.

The experiments were considered to be helpful for the medicine world, as they provided answers to problems that German doctors encountered in their work. Also, the Germans experimented on people in order find the best solutions to certain dilemmas which the Nazi soldiers came across after having been wounded.

In addition to torturing people in concentration camps, the Nazis would also exploit their victims anyway they could, human experimentation being one of the most terrible accounts reported in such institutions. Animal experiments had been a common sight in the Nazi world, with doctors and scientists taking advantage of the fact that the bodies of certain animals had had some similarities to that of the human body. Consequent to the coming of the prisoners in large numbers, the Nazis realized that the medical experiments that they performed would be more effective if they would be performed on real human beings.

Consequently, they did not hesitate to start new experimental programs in which prisoners would be forced to go through a diversity of ordeals (Kater, 2000, 225). "Experiments were conducted with total disregard for the principles and ethics of medical and scientific research" (the Holocaust: Lessons for Humanity, 2004, 32).

During the first months of 1942, Rascher had become a main physician in Munich, where he had been assigned with conducting experiments performed in special pressure chambers. At first, Rascher used monkeys in his tests, but, because he considered the animals to have to little similarities with people, he asked Himmler the permission to use prisoners for the work camps. The experiment took place in Munich and it lasted from February and until May. It involved two hundred prisoners being obliged to spend time in low pressure chambers in order for them to undergo conditions like those sustained by pilots of the Luftwaffe when they had to eject at high altitudes.

The pressure chambers that Rascher had used in his experiments had been provided by the German Air Force. Once in the chambers, the prisoners would be put through several changes in pressure with great rapidity.

The lives of over one hundred people have been claimed as a result of the experiment. People died in horrible conditions during or subsequent to spending time in the pressure chambers. The ones that survived did not have much time to regain their strength, as Rascher went on with the experiment. After being subjected to the pressure chambers, people had been analyzed in order to determine how they had been affected. This sometimes involved doctors operating and dissecting brains while the patients were still alive. Not a single prisoner survived from the two hundred that had been initially part of the experiment, as some died as a result of the experiment and the others had been executed. The experiments led by doctor Rascher had been entirely sponsored by the German Luftwaffe and by Himmler's corps. The Nazi authorities claimed that the experiments had been beneficial through the fact that they had been meant to provide assistance in saving the lives of German pilots (Kater, 2000, 125)

At first, Rascher believed that only certain people that have been guilty of terrible crimes were to be selected for participating in the experiment. However, as it had later been revealed, and, as Himmler had ordered, it did not matter if the prisoner had or had not been guilty or a particular crime. All across the experiments, Rascher observed the reactions experienced by people as they behaved abnormally because they were virtually suffocated by the sudden change in pressure.

The Luftwaffe supported several other tests on prisoners, as they wanted to find more methods through which the lives of pilots could be saved. Airplane pilots often found themselves having to parachute in remote areas which had extremely cold temperatures. Most efforts made by the German doctors with the intention to revive victims that have entered states of advanced hypothermia failed. As a result, the Nazis turned their attention on finding methods of warming those that have gone through extreme temperatures.

Subsequent to the high altitude experiments, Rascher and his colleagues started an experiment which had prisoners going through freezing temperatures in order to find methods of warming them. The experiments had been conducted in the Dachau camp, where prisoners were being held in freezing water or were being obliged to spend several hours outside naked in very low temperatures.

As a subject grew colder and colder, his body temperature fell dramatically to the point when he became unconscious. Patients often displayed deviant behavior such as spasms and the appearance of foam at their mouths. After such experiments, Rascher and his companions attempted various techniques of bringing the victims back to their initial state. These techniques involved people being put in very hot baths and even being put between the bodies of two women prisoners. As Rascher observed, people usually died after their bodies reached the temperature of 28 degrees.

The experiments performed by Rascher have proved to be inefficient, and hundreds of people have either died or gone through unimaginable suffering in vain. According to Kater, Rascher had not really been interested in the experiments, as he actually wanted the experiments to bring him more academic experience which…[continue]

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