The Camp SS seized all the belongings of murdered Jews, from children’s dolls to the crutches of the elderly. There was widespread corruption: individual SS members stole money, jewellery and more. There was also official plunder: on Himmler’s orders, the SS collected clothes and valuables, and dispatched them elsewhere (though the resulting profit did not make a major contribution to the German war effort). The Auschwitz SS built huge storage areas in Birkenau, where the stolen goods were sorted by prisoners (the so-called Canada Commando). Among them was Kitty Hart, a Polish Jew arrested in 1942. After the war, she moved to England, where she published her memoirs.
Our job was to sort out the belongings of the people who had been murdered. In one hut a group sorted nothing but shoes; in another only men’s clothing was sorted; in another all women’s; in still another only children’s things. Then there was a hut nicknamed Fressbaracke [gobble barrack] where food just lay piled rotting away, and in yet another hut valuables, jewellery, money and other precious things were sorted.[…]
Daily lorry loads were leaving with these stolen goods
Our party of girls was split among all these groups. I was on nightshift sorting women’s clothing. At the very end of our hut was a big pile, from which we had to make up bundles […]. The clothes had to be folded neatly and then tied. A certain number of bundles had to be made in a given time, and when finished these were taken into another hut where they were stacked for collection. Daily lorry loads were leaving with these stolen goods to be taken into Germany.
When making up bundles, all the pockets had to be emptied, and the worst moment was to discover identification papers, or worse still photographs. I never dared to look at these. How could anyone? A few yards away that very person might be burning at just this minute. […]
All clothing had to be fingered carefully along the seams for hidden jewellery and money. Waiting for the gold, dollars, diamonds and precious stones of every description was the whole Third Reich.
Source: K. Hart, I Am Alive (London, 1962), pp. 69–70 (emphasis in the original)