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24 September 2014
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BBC TWO unravels the secrets of Auschwitz

Programme two - Orders and Initiatives


"I could see everything that was going on as though it was laid out in the palm of my hand. An SS man climbed onto the flat roof of the building, put on a gas mask, opened a hatch and dropped the powder in." Józef Paczynsk, Polish political prisoner

Rudolf Höss is to claim later that he was just acting under orders. But like many involved in the 'Final Solution', he actually uses a lot of his own initiative in the killing process; never more so than in the search for more effective means of death.

In October 1941, the plans for the new camp extension at Auschwitz-Birkenau, already designed to house 100,000 people in the most terrible conditions, are altered to take even more inmates.

But no more room is created to accommodate the additional 30,000 people. All that is changed is the number of prisoners expected to live in each block.

Suffering is built into the very plans. 10,000 Soviet prisoners are put to work building the extension. They are the victims of appalling brutality, singled out by the Nazis as subhuman and beaten mercilessly.

By now many of Germany's Jews are being sent to the Lodz Ghetto in Poland but, unknown to them, this is not to be their final destination.

The Nazis involve the Jewish Ghetto leadership in Lodz in selecting those who are to be sent to Chelmno to be murdered in mobile gassing vans stationed there.

At Auschwitz, Höss is finding that large-scale murder has its complications. The crematorium only yards from his office has been used for gassings since the autumn of 1941. But the location is far from ideal for mass murder.

The screams of the victims cannot be muffled, even by two loudly revving motorcycles deliberately posted outside the makeshift gas chamber.

Höss, in consultation with his colleagues, now authorises the conversion of a peasant house - the Little Red House - in a remote part of Birkenau, where the killing can be more discreet.

By the summer of that year, Höss and his colleagues at Auschwitz have discovered how to murder thousands of people.

But these improvised methods of killing cannot keep pace with the demands of the 'Final Solution', which dreams of eliminating many millions.

The Nazis begin to scour the whole of Europe for more and more people to bring to Auschwitz and kill.

Orders and Initiatives hears disturbing testimonies from prisoners, including those who witnessed the first gassings at Auschwitz.

And for the first time on television, there is an interview with a Slovak perpetrator who knowingly helped to send his Jewish compatriots to their deaths.

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