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The yard of Block 11 Photo: Paweł Sawicki
The yard of Block...

Initially, a firing squad executed prisoners near the camp at places where gravel had been extracted—the so-called “gravel pits.” From the fall of 1941 to the fall of 1943, the majority of executions were carried out in the walled-off yard of block 11 in the main camp, in front of a specially built “Death Wall.”

The condemned prisoners had to strip naked in block 11, on the ground floor. Any women among them disrobed in separate rooms. The women were then led into the courtyard and shot first. The condemned prisoners were led to the wall in pairs. The SS executioner walked up from behind and shot them in the back of the head with a small-caliber rifle. Designated prisoners threw the corpses onto trucks or carts that delivered them to the crematoria. Auschwitz SS men also carried out numerous executions in which they shot Soviet POWs in the gravel pits, the courtyard of block 11, and inside the crematoria. Many of the people killed in this way were never entered in the camp records. On October 7, 1944, the SS shot 200 Jews in reprisal for the mutiny by Sonderkommando prisoners.

We have only partial data as to the number of victims of shooting. It is estimated that almost 1 thousand prisoners previously jailed in the cells in block 11 were killed in this way, as well as 4,500 so-called “police prisoners” sentenced to death by the Summary Court. Significant but unknown numbers of prisoners were shot after being taken straight from the camp for execution, as were Soviet POWs and Poles brought in from outside to be killed.

Executions were also carried out in the gas chambers in Auschwitz. In the latter half of 1941 and at the beginning of the following year, about 2 thousand Soviet POWs were killed in this way, as were 320 prisoners from the penal company in the aftermath of their planned mass escape in June 1942. Poles sentenced to death by the Summary Court were killed in the gas chambers in 1944, after the liquidation of the Death Wall. Several hundred people probably died in this way.