What I understand the Holocaust to be is a very difficult time for the Jews. It was a terrible time for their race and religion. Jews were discriminated, humiliated, abused and killed. Thanks to movies and books, I have been exposed to a deeper understanding of what they really went through. The atrocities they had to endure are shocking yet make a very interesting topic to research. My presentation is based on the concentration camps during the Holocaust.
Beginning in late 1941, the Germans began mass transports from the ghettoes in Poland to the concentration camps, starting with those people viewed as the least useful: the sick, old and weak and the very young. The first mass gassings began at the camp of Belzec, near Lublin, on March 17, 1942. Five more mass killing centers were built at camps in occupied Poland, including Chelmno, Sobibor, Treblinka, Majdanek and the largest of all, Auschwitz-Birkenau. From 1942 to 1945, Jews were deported to the camps from all over Europe, including German-controlled territory as well as those countries allied with Germany. The heaviest deportations took place during the summer and fall of 1942, when more than 300,000 people were deported from the Warsaw ghetto alone.
Q: What were the worst concentration camps?
A: Auschwitz-Birkenau, Treblinka, Ebensee, and Sobibor.
Auschwitz-Birkenau: Also known as Auschwitz I and II, these camps are probably the most infamous camps of World War II. The complex was made up three smaller sub-camps. One was a work camp. When the prisoner was too old or too sick to work, he was sent to the death camp. Once murdered, slain prisoners were sent to the final facility – a crematorium. Auschwits had the capacity to murder 20,000 prisoners per day. It is estimated that at least 1.1 million people died there.
Treblinka: This complex was another extermination camp. Like Auschwitz, one portion of the facility was a forced labor camp while the other was death camp. The workers were forced to work in the gravel pits and irrigation areas. When they could no longer work, the prisoners were sent to the death camp; Treblinka II. It is estimated that at least 870,000 Jews and Roma people were killed at Treblinka.
Ebensee: This camp was established in November of 1943 in Austria. This was another forced labor camp that provided slave labor to build underground tunnels for Nazi armaments. The prisoners were literally worked to death. Due to the death rates there, Ebensee was considered to be one of the worst concentration camps in the Nazi network.
Sobibor: Sobibor was another Nazi extermination camp located in Poland. It is estimated that 200,000 to 250,000 prisoners were murdered there. On October 14, 1943, the prisoners revolted, killing several guards. Nearly 600 prisoners were able to escape. Almost immediately after the revolt occurred, the Nazis destroyed the camp and planted a huge number of trees in its place in an effort to conceal the camp’s former location.
Julian Bilecki was just a skinny teenager when he and his family hid 23 Jews in an underground bunker, saving them from Nazi death squads in war-torn Poland.
In June of 1943 the Bilecki family members who lived near the ghetto heard a knock on their door, opened it and saw not only some of their Jewish friends and neighbors but also some strange faces - 23 in all. They had come to seek refuge from the Nazis.
The Bilecki family took them in and decided that with the few young, strong men in the group of escapees they would build a bunker in a cave in the woods and camouflage it with leaves and branches.
However, this temporary shelter was soon discovered by passers-by in the woods and, fearing for their friends' lives, the Bileckis were forced to look for another location, to build another bunker. The second bunker was built very near to the Bileckis' own home. It was winter and the snowcovered ground would leave a trail of footsteps to the new hiding place. A survivor, Mrs. Grau Schnitzer, later recalled how Julian Bilecki being a young, agile and very brave boy, would jump from tree to tree to deliver his bounty to his Jewish friends in order to avoid leaving tracks in the snow.
Sima Weissman, a survivor, later recalled, how they "not only hid us, but spent time with us, reading the Bible and praying for our salvation .. three times it was necessary to change hiding places, so that nearby villagers would suspect nothing. It's impossible to describe what these people did for us. No family member would have done more than they did."
After almost a year of living underground, one day the group heard shots above the bunker. They knew that at last they had been liberated and freedom was just beyond that thin layer of twigs and branches that had concealed their existence from the world for almost a year. The Russian Army liberated the area on March 27, 1944, and the surviving Jews went their separate ways, some immigrating to the U.S.
Over the years, many survivors sent packages of food and clothing to the Bilecki family, who remained poor, and corresponded by mail. There are no telephones on poor Ukrainian farms.
When I think of the Holocaust, a discrimination of a group of people, a denial of human rights ... I think of the Cuban Revolution, the Castro Regime. I am daughter of a Cuban born and the stories I have heard have really left an impact on me.
Talking about concentration camps...
To eliminate and punish those deemed unfit for his revolution while using them for free labor, Fidel Castro presided over a closed-door meeting within the regime’s hierarchy. The resulting plan was to create a network of concentration camps to intern the thousands of "unfit." First it was named "Plan Fidel." But Castro, cunningly, wanted his name out of it. It was to be called UMAP (Military Units to Help Production).
The concentration camps were built in isolated areas of the province of Camagüey. They were like Hitler's camps, but without crematoriums. They have the electrified barbed wire fences, guards with machine guns and police dogs, etc. Something never seen before in Cuba's history.
Beginning in November 1965, people already classified were summoned to the camps. They arrived by train, bus, truck and other police and military vehicles. And so began the humiliation, suffering, torture and hard labor for those thousands of unfortunate men and boys. Many committed suicide while others died as a result of hunger and disease - with no medical attention - torture and execution. Many suffered solitary confinement, beating, rape and mutilation. The traumatized survivors remember that in the UMAP, "they never received humane treatment."