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24 September 2014
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BBC TWO unravels the secrets of Auschwitz

Programme five - Frenzied Killing


"If you have to save your life you'll try it in every way, even in a criminal way if it comes to that, but you have to save it. Your life is first. You are nearest to yourself, whatever people try to say." Éva Speter, Hungarian-Jewish survivor of the 'Final Solution'

The most important year in the history of Auschwitz is 1944, the year when more people are killed than ever before.

It is also the year in which the Nazis send unlikely messengers to the East to try to sow seeds of confusion amongst the Allies, and when the Western Allies struggle with the dilemma of whether to negotiate with the Nazis about the Jews and whether or not to bomb the camp.

The Hungarians under Admiral Horthy have been unwilling to deport their Jews up to now, but in the wake of the German occupation of March 1944 comes Adolf Eichmann, the man charged with organising the deportation of all the Jews in Hungary.

Eichmann makes a mysterious offer to one of the most politically involved members of the Jewish community, in which he gives him a chance to broker a deal with his contacts abroad - one million Jewish lives saved for the provision of certain goods.

But at the same time, Eichmann continues to organise the deportations from Hungary to Auschwitz, where Höss is back in charge to oversee the murder of hundreds of thousands of people.

He ensures that the ovens in Crematorium V are fully operational and that five ditches are dug next to this gas chamber complex.

Work is speeded up on the railway sidings into the camp. Within ten weeks of the start of the deportations, 437,000 Hungarian Jews are sent to Auschwitz. About 75% of them are killed on arrival.

Whilst the scale of the killing grows, the Jewish envoy sent by Eichmann, Joel Brand, meets Jewish Agency representatives in Aleppo, Syria. He does not get the help he expects.

News of the offer also reaches the Allies, but it is dismissed as blackmail. The Allies, who by now know in detail just what is happening at Auschwitz - even the location of the crematoria and gas chambers - reject requests to bomb the camp.

Until now, Gypsy families have been kept separate from the other inmates at Birkenau in a special family camp. Orders are given to liquidate it. Because they know what fate awaits them, the Gypsies struggle with the SS to avoid being killed, but without success.

The Sonderkommando, who work in the gas chamber complexes, are aware that they will also be killed one day to protect the secret of their grim task - the processing of the bodies of those killed in the gas chambers.

In October 1944, in Crematoria II and IV, they revolt but are crushed by the SS guards.

Meanwhile, the Red Army east of Auschwitz is drawing near and Himmler is busy trying to negotiate a deal with the Western Allies.

In December 1944 and January 1945, the gas chambers in Auschwitz-Birkenau are dismantled to cover the Nazis' tracks.

Those prisoners who are well enough to walk are forced on a march in sub-zero temperatures back towards Germany, while Nazis like Höss and Mengele prepare to go into hiding. Retribution is close at hand.

Frenzied Killing includes testimony from a witness to the liquidation of the Gypsy family camp; members of the Sonderkommando who worked in the gas chamber complexes and a Hungarian Jew who survived the 'Final Solution' by accepting a place on Eichmann's 'goodwill gesture' to the Allies - a train of Jews supposedly bound for neutral Switzerland.

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