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The Children of Auschwitz

Under the German Nazi regime from 1941 to 1945, the Nazis and their collaborators killed more than 6 million Jewish people. Furthermore, people from different groups such as disabled people, gay people, Romani people, and children were among the people murdered at various camps, such as Auschwitz. The Nazi officials and their collaborators killed millions of children, who were nearly all Jewish.

The Nazis had been targeting children in which they considered to be dangerous or unwanted. Hence, they were murdering children as a security measure. However, children aged between 13 and 18 years had a greater chance of not being killed since they were being used for labor. 

Auschwitz is widely considered the darkest spot in the ocean of suffering, referred to as the Holocaust. The camp is located in Oswiecim, which is a few miles west of Krakow, near the border of Germany and Poland. It is said to be the deadliest Nazi concentration camp. Children were being deported to Auschwitz together with their family members, where most of them were murdered in the gas chambers immediately after they arrived. Among the 232,000 children deported to the concentration camp, only 750 children, mostly 15 years old, were rescued from the death camp in 1945. The children of Auschwitz were grouped into: children killed just after they were born or while in their mother’s wombs, children taken to the center as prisoners, children born in the camp and allowed to live, and the children killed immediately on arrival.

In the early stages of Auschwitz, the women were mercilessly sent to the gas chambers, and from the year 1943, they were allowed to give birth, but their children were murdered. The newly born babies were drowned in a cylindrical container containing water and then burned. The mothers were suffering from poor conditions in the camp and the pain of childbirth. Moreover, some women knew that their children would be taken away from them, and hence they hid them. Such women were lucky to keep their children after birth; however, they were ordered to bring their children and watch them being killed.

Women and children from the regions of Vitebsk and Dnipropetrovsk were set for a block at the turn of 1943/44. It was decided that children would be moved to a new camp leaving their mothers behind. Many crying, shouting, and banging heads were experienced at the center, but all was in vain. Most of the transported children were from the Zamosc region; some of them died of hunger while the rest were gassed and a few survived.

The children who were taken to the Roman camp adapted to the center's conditions well and were not separated from their mothers. However, despite adapting to the conditions, fate still treated them harshly. Some were diagnosed with diseases while others were sent to the gas chambers; the rest were murdered with their mothers in 1944 in a painful way as shouting and cries could be heard. The Romani camp stopped its operation late in July 1944, and people believed that was the end of their suffering.

In this camp, the children were hungry, lacked clothes, lacked sanitation, and were transported in adverse weather conditions such as a cold. As a result, the children fell sick and suffered from pneumonia, scarlet fever, and diphtheria. The challenge was the lack of proper medication as they only managed to set up a minor hospital ward arranged in two - three story banks, each accommodating three or four children.

The number of sick children increased in the camp, and they were accommodated in the hospital block for adults. The accommodation space was limited to the prisoners as a space assigned to a mother was a three-story bunk. About 50% of the barracks accommodated about 100 mothers and their children. The newly-born babies had prison identification numbers tattooed on their thighs, children risked being beaten or locked in the bunker to provide the mothers and their children with materials of nappies and smocks. In 1944, Jewish babies in concentration camps were not killed. Instead, they were allowed to live. 

In the Auschwitz camp, there was a period where between ten to twenty children were killed immediately upon their arrival. The process of getting the children was cruel; for example, if the grandmother was found caring for her grandchild, she was killed while the child replaced her camp prisoner. 

In the year 1944, thousands of children who came from Hungary were all murdered in Auschwitz. Furthermore, in the same year, in July, at mid-day, a train packed with young children with open doors was seen slowly passing next to the barbed wire of the hospital blocks. After two hours, smoke came out of the gas chambers indicating that the children were dead.

The available data indicates that there were about 700 children and young prisoners in the camps. About 500 of them were under the age of 15. In January of 1945, the Soviet army contributed to the liberation of Auschwitz camp. According to the records, more than half of these children were Jewish when the Soviet soldiers arrived at the Auschwitz camp.The Soviet army entered Krakow, and the Germans ordered that Auschwitz be abandoned.

In February and March of 1945, most liberated child prisoners left Auschwitz in different groups. Many moved to children’s homes, while others went to charitable institutions. Just a few of them could join their family members. Among the liberated children, most of them were taken to the camp hospitals set up by the Soviet army and the Polish red cross established on the ground of the main camp just after the liberation.

After diagnosing 180 children aged between 6 months-14 years, the medical department reported that they were suffering disease acquired in the camp due to poor living conditions. Some were diagnosed with tuberculosis. Furthermore, all children were underweight.

The poor living conditions of the Auschwitz camp led to the spread of disease in Europe. The harsh weather conditions made the children suffer from diseases such as pneumonia, and frostbite, which could develop into gangrene.  Moreover, the children also suffered from skin disease and scabies. In the years 1942-1943, most of the children in the camp faced an increased rate of illnesses such as tuberculosis, typhus, malaria, meningitis, dysentery, and a disorder of the digestive system. The massive loss of lives and starvation due to illness and inadequate food led to a reduced population in Europe, especially the Jews and other parts of the world.

The children who survived the Holocaust had lost their families and homes, and they were forced to move to charitable institutions or children’s homes. For them to reach that age, they could go to other countries such as Israel and Poland as refugees. There was a significant displacement of families, mainly Jewish, to different cities in Europe and eventually to different parts of the world to look for wealth and property. Those who migrated were housed and given basic needs in different refugee centers in those countries. For example, displaced person camps such as Bergen-Belsen located in Germany, the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, and the occupying Armies of the US. These camps were operated by France.

The suffering in the Holocaust resulted in the creation of new laws around the world. It identified how religious or racial discrimination could lead to horrible consequences. Nations worldwide began enacting new laws to ensure that an incident like the Holocaust is never repeated in itself again.

In the year 1949, Germany enacted a new law in their constitution that forbade racial discrimination; in the year 1964, the president of the United States, Lyndon Johnson, signed the Civil Rights Act that banned discrimination based on religion, sex, public facilities, national origin, and race. Furthermore, in South Africa, Apartheid ended in 1990. In 1944, president Nelson Mandela was elected in South Africa’s first democratic elections, while the United Nations general assembly created the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.


Edited by Chloe Mansola 

Image: 'Child Survivors of the Holocaust'  by United States Holocaust Memorial Museum licensed by  CC BY 4.0 DEED

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