Activity: How did prisoners survive Auschwitz-Birkenau?

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Surviving children of Auschwitz-Birkenau camp walk out of the children's barracks, soon after liberation, January 1945.

Image © 2012 United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Learning outcomes 

By the end of this activity:

  • All students will be able to list some of the conditions within Auschwitz-Birkenau.

 

  • Most students should be able to explain a range of conditions and situations prisoners experienced by priosoners of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Students may also be able to list how prisoners overcame these conditions.

 

  • Some students may be able to explain in detail various dangers experienced by prisoners of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Students may also be able to explain in detail how prisoners overcame these situations.

Resources

In order to carry out this activity you will need to use the following sections of The Holocaust Explained:

The death camps

Auschwitz-Birkenau

How did Jews respond?

How did prisoners survive Auschwitz-Birkenau?

Auschwitz-Birkenau, is the most infamous of the Nazi death camps. It was a massive concentration, forced labour and extermination camp at the centre of a network of more than 40 satellite camps.

Auschwitz-Birkenau began operating as a death camp between March 1942 and January 1945. The majority of those selected for work died within a few weeks or months of their arrival at the camp as a result of overwork, ill treatment, disease or lack of food.

What can we learn about the human spirit; man’s ability to cope with the most inhumane conditions and not give in to the perpetrator?

This Reflective Learning Activity will help you develop your understanding of the conditions and situations that prisoners within Auschwitz-Birkenau had to endure and how they overcame these conditions.

Activity

Stage 1: Set up a table to collect your evidence

On either a Word document or an A3 sheet of paper, produce a table to record your information (see the example above).

Alternatively, you could produce a mind map to collect and organise your research.

Stage 2: Research - collecting your information

As you read the text and access the various resources on the suggested pages of The Holocaust Explained record any information that you think will help you learn about the conditions, situations and dangers faced by the prisoners of Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Make sure that you also look for ways in which prisoners survived and resisted these situations. 

Stage 3: Communicating what you have learned 

You could produce a PowerPoint slide show to communicate your findings.

You should have an introduction slide complete with the question, and an appropriate image taken from The Holocaust Explained.

You could have a serious of slides in sections: ‘conditions’, ‘situations’, ‘surviving’ and ‘resistance’. 

Alternatively, you could use headings such as ‘arrival’, ‘selection and processing’, ‘work and routines’, ‘meals and food’, ‘treatment’, ‘resistance’.

In your slides you need to give details of the conditions, treatment and/or dangers faced by prisoners. You should also try to show what prisoners could and did do in order to overcome and survive these situations.

You might want to add appropriate images taken from The Holocaust Explained.