The SS built an extensive machinery of death at Auschwitz-Birkenau. It operated two gas chambers (Bunkers 1 and 2) in 1942, and in 1943 added four large crematoria (with integral gas chambers). Many SS men participated in the killings, from those who pulled Jews out of deportation trains to those who dropped Zyklon B pellets into gas chambers. Soon after the war, one of these SS men, Pery Broad, wrote a surprisingly frank account. Broad had joined the SS in 1941, aged 20, and came to Auschwitz the following year. Here, he soon worked in the Political Department, which was closely involved in the gassings. In 1965, Broad was sentenced by a Frankfurt court to four years’ imprisonment. He died in 1994.

079 – The former SS man Pery Broad on the Holocaust in Auschwitz-Birkenau

The duty NCO [non-commissioned officer] charges noisily through the Commandant Staff rooms of Auschwitz concentration camp. The shrill sound of his whistle breaks the silence of the night. “The transport’s arrived!” SS men, tired and swearing, leap out of their beds, which are covered with the finest down quilts. They include men of the transport service, the reception department, the prisoner property administration, the leadership of the protective custody camp, and the disinfectors, all those who during the night were on duty to receive the transport. “Damn it! These transports are non-stop; they don’t leave you a moment’s peace; where’s this one from?” “I think it’s Paris. But the one from Westerbork is already standing in the station; they want to shove that onto the ramp as soon as possible.” […]

Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Höss (second from left) stands next to camp doctor Josef Mengele (left) and Josef Kramer (right), the later Bergen Belsen commandant (summer 1944)

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Anonymous Donor

A long train made up of closed freight wagons is standing at a side platform of the marshalling yard. The sliding doors are sealed with barbed wire. Searchlights flood the train and the ramp with dazzling light. Anxious faces can be seen looking out of the wagons through barred hatches. The SS detail have taken up positions round the train and the ramp. The leader of the detail reports to the SS leader responsible for processing the whole transport that the guards are ready. The wagons can now be emptied. The leader of the escort squad responsible for guarding the train during the journey, who is almost invariably a police officer, hands over the transport list to the SS man in charge of the reception squad. The list states where the transport has come from, the number of the train, and the surnames, first names and dates of birth of all the Jews who were being brought in it to Auschwitz. The SS men attached to the head of the protective custody camp make sure that the prisoners leave the train. […]

They simply did not see Jews as human beings

To start with the men and women are separated. There are heartbreaking scenes as they say goodbye to each other. […] Now the SS doctor begins to select those fit for work from the unfit. Mothers with small children are unfit for work on principle, as are all those who look frail or sick. Portable step ladders are placed on the backs of lorries and those who have been selected by the SS doctor as unfit are forced to climb in […].

The fleet of lorries travels backwards and forwards several times taking all those who have been condemned to death to the bunkers. They have to undress in the stable barracks. Then they are pushed into the gas chambers […] The moment that all of them have been locked up in the gas chambers with the doors bolted most of the SS go off duty. […]

If, surveying the corpses of men and women lying around on the ground, of children who seem to be asleep, one asked an SS man why these people had to be exterminated then generally his response, which he evidently found entirely convincing, was: “That’s how it has to be”. Propaganda, which in the case of these people had fallen on only too fertile soil, their sadistic and megalomaniacal tendencies, and their intellectual limitations had resulted in these creatures, who did not deserve the epithet “human beings”, feeling themselves to be representatives of a highly developed race who were entitled to deny another race the right to live and even to exterminate it with every means at their disposal. They simply did not see Jews as human beings.

Source: J. Bezwińska, D. Czech (eds), KL Auschwitz in den Augen der SS (Katowice, 1981), pp. 174–8

Translation: Lesley Sharpe and Jeremy Noakes