| Confessions of an Auschwitz Number
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|| Poet Joseph Rogel was interned
in several Nazi concentration camps, the most notorious of which
was Auschwitz in his native Poland. There, the infamous sign
over the gate announced with cruel deception, "Arbeit Macht
Frei," or "Work Makes You Free."
Auschwitz had been established in 1940, and quickly
expanded under the command of Rudolf
Hoess. There, between 1942 and 1944, more than one million people,
mainly Jews from every European country under German occupation,
would meet their deaths. Auschwitz, actually a complex of camps,
was divided into three main sections: Auschwitz, Birkenau and Monowice
and covered 40 square kilometres. It was a location large enough
for the Nazis to envisage the realization of their "final solution"
to the Jewish question and remote enough to mask their terrible
Before the construction of specialized gas chambers,
gassed victims in adapted farmhouses. Their bodies were burned on
funeral pyres or in mass graves before the massive crematoria could
be finished. The smoke could be smelled for miles and the light
from the fires was considered a hazard by the Nazis' local air defence.
Later, victims, under the pretext of being sent to
the bathhouse, were crammed into sealed chambers and killed by poison
gas that came through ceiling vents. Fellow prisoners were forced
to remove the bodies, only to be killed later themselves.
Gold teeth were extracted from corpses and shorn hair
was saved for other uses. Eyeglasses and shoes were heaped into
Prisoners not immediately selected for death were
tattooed with identification numbers on the inside of their left
forearms. They spent their foreshortened lives in starvation and
forced labour, punctuated by roll calls that forced them to stand
at attention for several hours. Internees were forced to witness
the killing of fellow prisoners and subjected to beatings and humiliation
guards. Many chose the moments of their own deaths by running up
against the fences, where they were electrocuted or shot.
At times, Rogel had been consigned to the notorious
Block 11, where especially cruel tortures and executions were committed.
Rogel settled in Montreal after the war and over the ensuing decades
reflected on his experiences and their aftermath in poetry.
From the book
||I Received A Letter