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Surgical Ward Book

The Surgical Ward...
The Surgical Ward...
Block 21 - entrance
the room in block...
Block 21 - interior
The groundfloor...
The plan of a first...

Document description

The Surgical Ward Books kept in the Archives of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum contain information concerning surgical ward at the mother camp Auschwitz I. It was a register of male and female prisoners operated on at the camp hospital in block 21 and 28. In the Surgical Ward of the block, more or less complicated surgical treatments were performed, e.g.: hernia, appendix and varicose veins surgeries, phlegmon incising, putting on casts, punctures, stomach resections due to ulceration, laparotomies due to internal haemorrhage, fracture and dislocation repositioning. Surgeries, performed as a part of pseudo-medical experiments carried out by SS physicians on male and female prisoners, also took place. Moreover, there were surgeries, in which the SS physicians learned “the art of surgery” on the prisoners. Before every operation, the SS physicians demanded from the prison staff to provide them with an “interesting case”, on which they could practise their surgical skills, and if there was no such case, they personally chose from among the sick who came to the Krankenbau with various complaints.

            All the surgical treatments were scrupulously noted in the Surgical Ward Book which was kept in a wide-ruled notebook, 21 x 33cm, bound in dark covers. Columns, in which reports on the “patients” of block 20 were entered, were filled in by hand. Pages were divided into the following columns: item no. (“Lfd.  Nr.” - Laufende Nummer), the date of the entry (“Datumm”), prisoner number (“Häftl. Nr.” - Häftling Nummer), name and surname (“Name u. Vorname” - Name und Vorname), diagnosis (“Diagnose”), surgical treatment (“Operation”), the main surgeon (“Operateur”), assistant (“Assistent”), anaesthetist (“Narkotiseur”), anaesthesia (“Narkose”) and remarks (“Bemerk.”- Bemerkungen). All the data was kept on two pages of the Book. It appears from the handwriting that the record of the “patients” of the surgical ward was kept by several recorders. The document is written in German, except for diagnoses and treatments, which were written down in Latin. The entries were made in blue ink and contain many referrals and abbreviations. 

            On the basis of the Surgical Ward Book, it has been determined that the inmate-physicians who most frequently performed surgeries were: Zbigniew Sobieszczański (no. 77022), Jan Grabczyński (no. 83864), Władysław Dering (no. 1723), Tadeusz Orzeszko (no. 131527), Jerzy Klebanowski (no. 115790), Szczepan Kruczek (no. 73504), Józef Mężyk (no. 18858), Czesław Kozłowski (no. 8096). It appears from the entries that male and female prisoners were also operated on by SS physicians without qualifications, e.g.: SS-Hauptsturmführer Siegfried Schwela, SS-Obersturmführer Friedrich Entress, SS-Sturmbannführer Horst Fischer and SS-Obersturmführer Büning. Both the inmate-physicians and the SS physicians were assisted by other inmate-physicians, among others: Władysław Dering, Jan Grabczyński, Wilhelm Türschmied (no. 11461), Janusz Okła (no. 41698), Zbigniew Sobieszczański, Przemysław Duś (no. 80078),Johann Weber (no. 173961), Karl Gallmetzer (no. 158648), Stanisław Kościelny (no. 166420), Stanisław Przewdziecki (no. 7779) and Jakub Wollman (no. 33611). Stefan Żabicki (no. 11016), Zenon Ławski (no. 6561), Tadeusz Stańko (no. 3502), Wilhelm Freisinger (no. 69095), Przemysław Duś, Józef Panasewicz (no. 17453), among others, acted as surgical anaesthetists.

Creation time

The preserved Surgical Ward Record Books cover the period between 1.10.1941 and 15.01.1945. The first Book, handed over by the Polish Red Cross (PRC) Information and Search Bureau, consists of entries made over the period between 1.10.1941 and 4.09.1942. In the second and third part of the Surgical Ward Book, found in the camp after the liberation, the register of prisoners operated on in periods 10.09.1042 - 22.02.1943 and 22.02.1943 - 23.02.1944 was kept. The fourth part of the Surgical Ward Book, however, kept at the Museum of Military Medicine in Saint Petersburg, covers the period from 23.02.1944 to 15.01.1945.

Preservation history of the document

4 parts of the Surgical Ward Books were preserved; 3 of them, the original ones, are kept in the Archives of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, and one is in the possession of the Museum of Military Medicine in Saint Petersburg. Prisoners working at the camp hospital contributed to the preservation of the Surgical Ward Books. During the action of burning the documents on 18.01.1945 they hid two Books in the stove situated in the camp bathhouse. After the liberation, the documents were taken out of the stove and handed over to the Main Committee for the Investigation of Nazi War Crimes in Poland. The Books were returned to the Museum on 10.06.1961.

            In 1993, the Museum of Military Medicine in Saint Petersburg allowed the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in Oświęcim to microfilm one of the original Surgical Ward Books. Currently, copies of this volume can be found in the Archive. The fourth volume of the Surgical Ward Book was handed over to the Archives of the Museum by PRC Information and Search Bureau in Warsaw on 5.10.2010.

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Database: “Surgery”

The database “Surgery” created in the Digital Repository is based on four preserved Surgical Ward Books, and consists of 22337 personal entries. In the meantime, the original volumes of the Surgical Ward Book were scanned and the scans were attached to individual records. The work on the database was finished in 2014. Upon checking every record with the original and  when the corrections were done, the “Surgery” database was incorporated into the Digital Repository of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum.

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