- What was the Holocaust?
- Judaism and Jewish life
- What is antisemitism?
- How did the Nazis gain power?
- Life in Nazi-controlled Europe
- What were camps?
- What was the Final Solution?
- How did people respond?
- Survival and legacy
Having arrived at a concentration camp and been unloaded from the cattle trucks, men and women were separated, children staying with their mothers.
After registration, prisoners had to undress and have their hair shaved before showering. They usually had their own clothing taken away, which would be replaced by a striped uniform.
This process was designed to remove any remnants of human dignity or personal identity.
Anna, aged 11, from Poland, describes the effect of having her hair cut: “I look around and I see young girls with scissors and clippers cutting hair off clean to the scalp... when the cold scissors touch my scalp and my hair slowly falls down, I can’t help it, my tears fall down, mixed with my black curls.”
Mel, aged 15, from Czechoslovakia, goes on: “We all looked alike... Rich, poor, young, old. We shared the same fate as in no way before. I hardly recognised my father. Friends would pass you by. It was a nightmare.”
Jacob, aged 17, describes the clothing he was given: “From there we went to the next room. We were handed a striped jacket, striped pants, wooden shoes and a striped cap.”
Jack, aged 17, who had travelled from Greece to Auschwitz in Poland, says “They gave us striped pyjamas. Some of us got sizes too big or too small, but we changed among ourselves.”
Daily routines were also designed to reduce prisoners to mere numbers.
After an early wake-up, daily concentration camp routines would begin with the Appell, the daily roll call. During the Appell prisoners had to stand in rows, completely still, for hours at a time, and in all weathers. Long lists of orders and instructions would be read out. The number of prisoners would be counted. Often, the kapos would announce that the total number of prisoners in a block was inaccurate, leading to a recount at the whim of the SS.
After waking and before roll call, up to 2,000 prisoners at a time would have to share toilet facilities. The toilet would be a concrete or wooden board with often 100 holes for seats. No privacy and no real sanitation was provided. Prisoners would have to wash in dirty water, without soap and with no change of clothes for weeks or months on end.
After eating a meagre ration of watery soup, a piece of bread and some imitation coffee, a prisoner’s day would follow with work details.