Geoff Walden


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Auschwitz-Birkenau  - the Judenrampe

 

   When most people think of the arrival of Jews at Auschwitz, they think of the rail lines inside the Birkenau camp, passing through the "Gate of Death" of the entry building. However, these rails were only installed in the spring of 1944, and only the large shipments of Jews from Hungary in May-June 1944 arrived there. Prior to this, from the spring of 1942 until about May of 1944, Jews and other deportees arrived at the so-called Judenrampe, the Jewish platform. This was a rail line, later expanded to several rail lines, that passed to the west of the Auschwitz main camp, between there and the later Birkenau camp. This rail line was the main civilian line passing the Oświęcim train station and on to the south and west.

   As part of the construction projects of the Birkenau camp and the factories and support buildings of the Auschwitz "Interest Zone," the civilian rail line was enlarged into a multi-track freight station called "Bahnhof West." Part of this was the enlarged Judenrampe, which eventually had a concrete platform some 500 meters long, complete with powerful lights to light up the arrival and selection process at night. During this selection process, men were separated from women and children, then those who were deemed fit for work were separated from those others who were sent immediately to the gas chambers. An estimated 600-900,000 Jews, Gypsies, and other deportees arrived at the Auschwitz complex via this Judenrampe.

   The best reference on the Judenrampe is Oświęcim-Auschwitz, Auschwitz-Oświęcim by Hans Citroen and Barbara Starzyńska, Rotterdam, Post Editions, 2011.

   The building designations in parentheses in the text (e.g., BW7B) were the original construction project numbers for each building.

 

The photo on the left, taken around February-March 1943, shows the south end of the "Bahnhof West" freight lines, looking northeast. A line of freight cars stands on a rail line to the right, in the area of the original Judenrampe. The line of buildings on the left was built to store potatoes and vegetables (see below). In the center, prisoners are working on additional rail lines for the freight station. The red arrow shows the location of the modern photo on the right.  (Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, www.auschwitz.org)

The photo on the right shows the Judenrampe memorial, emplaced in 2005 through French efforts. Although this is not the site of the original Judenrampe, which was further to the east, beyond the trees in the right background, this site was chosen for accessibility. The original rails of the freight station in this area were torn up and modern rails laid, and freight cars representing the type used to transport Jews were placed on the tracks, along with memorial plaques and interpretive markers.  (Google Maps link)

 

 Two views of the original Judenrampe site. Dutch researcher Hans Citroen has theorized that the remains of the concrete ramp lie buried beneath the pile of gravel at the right of the first photo. Note the line of original concrete lamp posts, which are absent from the memorial site. Survivors noted that the original Judenrampe was strongly lit at night. The original tracks at the right are just on the other side of the gravel pile, and are likely also part of the original Judenrampe. Slabs and chunks of concrete can be found along these rails, possibly part of the concrete ramp that replaced the original wooden Judenrampe.  (area of the original Judenrampe site)

 

In the fall and winter of 1942-43, prisoners from the Birkenau labor camp built a series of ten warehouses as storage for potatoes and vegetables, produce of the Auschwitz area farms run by the SS, that were shipped out via the freight station "Bahnhof West." These Kartoffellagerhallen (BW95) remain in ruins today, near the Judenrampe memorial.  (Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, www.auschwitz.org)

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     Across the street from the Kartoffellagerhalle ruins are some original rails. These were the final rail lines laid in the area of Bahnhof West, in 1944, to service the Zerlegebetrieb salvage facility some distance further to the southwest. This facility was a recycling center for downed military aircraft, run by the Luftwaffe, with labor provided by Auschwitz prisoners. The prisoners broke up the remains, retaining parts that could be re-used in aircraft production, and preparing the rest for metal recycling.

 

An additional building was erected nearby, a Krautsilo (BW96) for storage of cabbage produce, also a ruin today.  (Yad Vashem Collections)  (Google Maps link)

 

   Continue to Auschwitz II Birkenau extermination camp and concentration / slave labor camp
   Continue to Auschwitz III Monowitz and surrounding labor camps, along with the IG Farben Buna-Werke factory site
   Continue to Auschwitz "Interest Zone" - SS administrative buildings and housing, and factory, agricultural, and support sites outside the main camps
   Back to Auschwitz main page

Official Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum Webpage  --  http://en.auschwitz.org/m/

Follow these links to visit other Third Reich in Ruins pages on concentration camp sites  --  Dachau, Buchenwald, Sachsenhausen, Nordhausen (Dora), Flossenbürg, S/III Jonastal, Mauthausen (includes Gusen), Ebensee (Austria). 

   Back to the Third Reich in Ruins homepage

 

Third Reich in Ruins, http://www.thirdreichruins.com/

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This page initially uploaded on 20 July 2000.


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