Auschwitz-Birkenau: Block No. 11
Block No. 11 was known by the prisoners [of Auschwitz] as "the death block." It filled several roles, of which the most important was that of central camp jail. Here, the SS placed male and female prisoners from all over the camp who were suspected by the camp Gestapo of belonging to the underground, planning escapes or mutinies, or maintaining contact with the outside world. Poles from outside the camp were also held here after being arrested for such offenses as offering aid to prisoners. They were subjected to brutal interrogation that usually ended in a sentence of death by being shot or hanged.
In the first years of the camp, the penal company (Strafkompanie) and corrective company (Erziehungskompanie), assigned to the harshest labor, were quartered here. Almost all newly arrived Jewish prisoners and Polish priests were initially placed in the penal company, where the number of victims was highest. The special group of prisoners assigned to burn corpses in the crematorium (Sonderkommando) was temporarily quartered in this block.
So-called police prisoners (Polizeihäftlinge) were imprisoned here after 1943. These were Poles, suspected of resistance activity and held at the disposition of the Katowice Judicial District Gestapo. They waited in this block for the verdict of the German summary court, which usually sentenced them to death.
The SS incarcerated prisoners guilty of violating the camp regulations in the punishment cells located in the basement. Prisoners sentenced to death by starvation were also placed here in 1941. Among those who died in cell no. 18 in the basement of this block was St. Maksymilian Maria Kolbe.
In connection with SS operational plans for beginning the total extermination of the Jews, a trial of the use of Zyklon B gas for mass killing was carried out in the basement on September 3-5, 1941. In this test, 600 Soviet prisoners of war and 250 Polish patients selected from the camp "hospital" were murdered.
From 1941-1943, the SS shot several thousand people at the Death Wall in the courtyard between Blocks No. 10 and 11. Those who died here were mostly Polish political prisoners, and above all leaders and members of the underground organization, people involved in planning escapes and aiding escapers, and those maintaining contacts with the outside world. Poles brought from outside the camp were also shot here. They included hostages arrested in reprisal for Polish resistance movement operations against the German occupation authorities.
Men, women, and even children died here. Cases are also known in which prisoners of other nationalities were shot here: Jews and Soviet prisoners of war. The SS administered floggings in the courtyard, as well as the punishment known as "the post," in which prisoners were hung by their wrists, which were twisted behind their backs. The Death Wall was dismantled in 1944 on orders from the camp authorities, and the SS carried out most executions by shooting in the gas chambers and crematoria of Auschwitz II-Birkenau.
The Museum reconstructed the Death Wall after the war.
Source: The State Museum of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Reprinted with permission.