Auschwitz: A scene of atrocities even before the horrors of the Holocaust
Eighty years ago, on June 14, 1940, the first 728 prisoners arrived at Auschwitz. The camp was initially meant for Polish resistance fighters, but from 1942 it played a central role in the Nazi genocide of Jews.
“My dear Halusia, Since June 14, I have been in the Auschwitz concentration camp. I am healthy and feel well,” wrote Tadeusz Korczowski, Prisoner No. 373, to his fiancée. All correspondence was strictly controlled by the camp administration, so the 26-year-old could write little more in his letter besides praising the “pleasant weather in Auschwitz.” But between the lines, he tries to indicate that he will probably be staying there “for some time.”
The same transport to Auschwitz on June 14, 1940, also brought Jan Pogonowski, a 19-year-old student. We know that he was condemned to death as a resistance fighter at the camp in 1943 along with 11 other prisoners. While waiting to die with the noose around his neck, he managed to push away the support on which he was standing and hang himself, eyewitnesses said, thus at least deciding the moment of his death himself. The death certificate mailed to the family gave the cause of his demise as “sudden cardiac death.”
Korczowski and Pogonowski were among the first prisoners at the Auschwitz concentration camp, which was set up in the spring of 1940 in the buildings of what used to be Polish army barracks. SS commander Heinrich Himmler liked the location’s good transport links, which seemed practical for bringing prisoners to the camp from different occupied regions of Europe.