Prisoners were assigned to a whole range of different work duties. Some of these were within the camp, but most prisoners worked outside in one of the many factories, construction projects, farms or coal mines, owned by German companies and for whom they now provided free slave labour.
The Sonderkommando (Special Works Unit) were Jewish prisoners who were selected to work in the crematoria at Auschwitz-Birkenau. They were selected for their strength and fitness. The Sonderkommando worked for periods lasting up to four months, but often for just a few weeks. They worked in terrible conditions, processing and disposing of the bodies of those sent to the gas chambers.
They were then murdered.
The possessions and precious belongings of the Jews transported to Auschwitz-Birkenau were left in the train carriages and on the ramp as their owners were quickly put through the selection process.
When the selection process was complete, a work group of prisoners called the ‘Kanada Kommando’ collected the belongings of victims and took them to the ‘Kanada’ warehouse facility for sorting and transporting back to Germany.
To prisoners Canada was a country that symbolised wealth. They, therefore, gave the ironic name Kanada (the German spelling of Canada) to the warehouse area as it was full of possessions, clothing and jewellery.
The prisoners working in the Kanada Kommando lived in barracks. The barracks were inside the warehouse, away from the rest of the prisoners in the camp. They were in a better position than the other inmates.
They could take extra food on which to survive, a pair of shoes or extra clothing to protect themselves from the severe winter weather. Some smuggled valuables to bribe the kapos or guards. If they were caught, they were killed.