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The opening and growth of the hospitals

The foundation of the extensive network of camp hospitals at Auschwitz was the infirmary set up in the second half of June 1940, several days after the arrival of the first transport of Polish political prisoners. The first patients were prisoners who had been badly beaten or who were near the point of collapse because of the murderous exercises (called “sport”) that were characteristic of the preliminary quarantine period. As more transports arrived and the number of patients rose, the hospital expanded. In the final form assumed by the hospital in the Auschwitz I main camp, it was made up of block 19, the Schonungsblock for convalescent prisoners; block 20, the contagious diseases block; block 21, the surgical block; and block 28, the internal medicine block.

In line with the expansion of Auschwitz from 1942 to 1944, new hospitals opened in the Auschwitz main camp (for the Soviet POWs and women prisoners held there at various times), Birkenau (in the camps for men, women, Roma, and Jews from the Theresienstadt ghetto), and in the sub-camps.

At various times, the heads of the camp “hospitals” included SS physicians Max Popiersch, Siegfried Schwela, Oskar Dienstbach, Kurt Uhlenbroock, and Eduard Wirths in the Auschwitz main camp; Erwin von Helmersen, Heinz Thilo, and Rudolf Horstman in the Birkenau men’s camp; and Werner Rohde, Fritz Klein, and Hans Wilhelm König in the Birkenau women’s camp. Josef Mengele started out as the head doctor in the Zigeunerlager (“Gypsy camp”), and ended up in charge of all the hospitals and infirmaries in Birkenau.