Established by Germany’s SS authorities, Auschwitz-Birkenau II formed part of a forced labour and extermination camp complex on the Polish-German border. Auschwitz-Birkenau II was the main extermination centre and divided into ten barbed wired sections patrolled by guards and dog handlers. After the mass transport trains arrived, prisoners’ possessions were plundered (to be sorted in ‘Kanada’ warehouse) and two groups were formed: immediate death, or hard labour and starvation. All of the prisoners, who were mostly Jewish, undressed for ‘disinfection’, with up to 90 per cent tricked into entering one of eight gas chambers, where they were exterminated with Zyklon B gas. This process was known as the ‘selection’. To compound the collective suffering, fellow inmates were made to remove the bodies to the crematoria ovens. The second group were showered, shaved, tattooed and marched (in striped pyjamas and wooden clogs) to overcrowded male or female bunkhouses. The largest group of deportees to Auschwitz II were Hungarian Jews; some 426,000 arrived there between early 1942 and summer 1944. Many of them were housed in the partially constructed Mexiko barracks, which had no latrines or water.
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