The first trains carrying Jews arrived at Auschwitz-Birkenau in March 1942. Often several trains arrived daily carrying Jews from almost every country in Europe.
Each of the trains carried in excess of a thousand victims. Prisoners had been packed into cattle wagons with no room to sit, no food, a bucket for water and another as a toilet. The journey could last days on end, with the ‘passengers’ not knowing where they were passing through or where they were going. Many victims died during the journey as a result of suffocation, illness or hunger.
Initially, arrivals at Auschwitz-Birkenau would be unloaded on a ‘ramp’ alongside the main railway lines at Oswiecim. The prisoners would then walk the short distance to the camp. However, in preparation for the arrival of 440,000 Hungarian Jews during the spring of 1944, railway tracks were laid right into the camp, through the now infamous gatehouse building.
On arrival at Auschwitz-Birkenau the trains would pull up on the unloading ramp in front of the awaiting SS officers and guards, kapos and the Sonderkommando.
The Jews were thrown out of the railway wagons and made to leave their belongings behind them. They were then ordered to form lines ready for the selection process. This was when the Nazis selected which Jews would be sent straight to their deaths in the gas chambers and which Jews would remain alive temporarily.
More than 80 per cent of those who arrived at Auschwitz-Birkenau were murdered at once. The majority of the remainder died as a result of overwork, ill-treatment, disease or lack of food.