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Staff and Organizational Structure of the Prisoner Infirmary

 a  “In this intervening space I later hid the homemade hand grenades. We thought we would need them, because we didn't know what the SS intended to do as the front line grew nearer, and we hoped that the partisans would attack the camp from outside, so that we could help them from within [...] On January 18, 1945, the march out of camp began, in wintry temperatures and deep snow. Beforehand I packed infirmary documents and others from the prisoners' typing room, which were supposed to be burned, into a bucket that had held jam. I soldered it and then plunged the bucket into the cesspit.”

(Dr. Heinz Kahn: “Erlebnisse eines jungen deutschen Juden in Hermeskeil, Trier, Auschwitz und Buchenwald in den Jahren 1933 bis 1945.” In: Johannes Mötsch, ed.: Ein Eifler für Rheinland-Pfalz. Festschrift für Franz-Josef Heyen (Mainz: Gesellschaft für mittelrheinische Kirchengeschichte, 2003), pp. 641–659, here p. 655. (Transl. KL))

After the establishment of the prisoner infirmary (HKB; Häftlingskrankenbau), doctors for the HKB in the Buna/Monowitz concentration camp were recruited from among the deportees to Auschwitz who had claimed possession of a medical degree upon their arrival. Assistants and orderlies, however, were not absolutely required to have a prior grounding in medicine. In the early days, therefore, the actions of the workers often were inexpert or even rough, and they might sell part of the soup rations meant for the patients, to get cigarettes or articles of clothing. Often, too, patients were beaten for the slightest offense.


At first, two or three doctors and a few prisoner orderlies worked in the outpatient clinic; those who were more seriously ill had to be transferred to the HKB of the main camp. Later on, larger numbers of professionally qualified prisoners were deployed there, and there were at least nine doctors, often internationally recognized experts in their field. In addition, in each of the nine blocks of the HKB there were four or five orderlies and a clerk. A few patients continued on there as orderlies after their recovery. Besides, prisoners also were secretly employed in the HKB at all times, doing mechanical tasks, for instance. Work in the HKB was coveted; it “was considered comparatively easy and afforded a chance for a better diet.”[1]


Though the possibilities for treatment were limited, the staff had opportunities to make the prisoners’ hard life easier: Survivors speak of assistance from the infirmary, food that strengthened them, warning about or rescue from a selection, and treatment with rare drugs. Moreover, if there was a threat of selections, convalescents could be released and put in an easy detachment in the camp, or moved to another ward with a new patient record. Doctors and orderlies faced a moral dilemma: Contrary to their professional practices, they often had to make themselves into “masters of life and death,” deciding who would enjoy the scarce resources and who would not. The assistance of prisoner physicians often was perceived in different ways: camp elder Stefan Budziaszek (Buthner), described by the Polish prisoner physician Antoni Makowski as the man who guided the “infirmary to full development,”[2] was investigated in connection with the Frankfurt Auschwitz trial: In the proceedings, Jewish prisoners claimed that he showed preference to Polish prisoners and suggested “exclusively Jews”[3] for selection.


The employees of the infirmary were not under constant SS supervision, partly because of the terrible conditions, the stench, and the danger of infection. Many took advantage of this to plan resistance activities.  a  The infirmary resembled the camp organization in that it had its own camp elder. This position was held first by two political prisoners, Ludwig Wörl and Heinrich Schuster. They were indeed described by fellow inmates as “kindly,” but their “lack of any qualifications” had “negative effects on the care of the patients”[4] in the form of an extremely high death rate. They were followed in June 1943 by the Polish physician Stefan Budziaszek. His immediate superior was the SS physician in charge,[5] or, in his absence, the Sanitätsdienstgrad (SDG; hospital orderly),[6] also a member of the SS. It was the SS doctor and the SDG, accompanied by the camp elder, the respective block physician, and a prisoner clerk, who also conducted selections in the HKB.


Though most of the prisoners who failed to return from their infirmary stay fell victim to selections, in winter a great many also succumbed to disease or emaciation. Between November 1942 and March 1943 alone, about 580 patients died. Their bodies were gathered in the mortuary and taken by truck to the crematoriums of Birkenau.

(SP; transl. KL)


Max Drimmer, oral history interview [Eng.], July 3, 2007. Archive of the Fritz Bauer Institute, Norbert Wollheim Memorial.

Heinz Kahn, oral history interview [Ger.], July 11, 2007. Archive of the Fritz Bauer Institute, Norbert Wollheim Memorial.

Ernest W. Michel, oral history interview [Eng.], July 5, 2007. Archive of the Fritz Bauer Institute, Norbert Wollheim Memorial.

Julius Paltiel, oral history interview [Norw.], June 7–8, 2007. Archive of the Fritz Bauer Institute, Norbert Wollheim Memorial.

[Posener, Curt]: “Zur Geschichte des Lagers Auschwitz-Monowitz (BUNA).” Unpublished manuscript, undated, 53 pages. Archive of the Fritz Bauer Institute.

Miroslav Ribner, oral history interview [Serbo-Croatian], December 8, 2007. Archive of the Fritz Bauer Institute, Norbert Wollheim Memorial.



Kahn, Dr. Heinz: “Erlebnisse eines jungen deutschen Juden in Hermeskeil, Trier, Auschwitz und Buchenwald in den Jahren 1933 bis 1945.” In: Johannes Mötsch, ed.: Ein Eifler für Rheinland-Pfalz. Festschrift für Franz-Josef Heyen. Mainz: Gesellschaft für mittelrheinische Kirchengeschichte, 2003, pp. 641–659.

Levi, Primo / de Benedetti, Leonardo: “Report on the Sanitary and Medical Organization of the Monowitz Concentration Camp for Jews (Auschwitz—Upper Silesia).” In: Primo Levi: Auschwitz Report. London/New York: Verso, 2006, pp. 31–78.

Makowski, Antoni: “Organisation, Entwicklung und Tätigkeit des Häftlings-Krankenbaus in Monowitz (KL Auschwitz III).” In: Hefte von Auschwitz 15 (1975), pp. 113–181.

Wagner, Bernd C.: IG Auschwitz. Zwangsarbeit und Vernichtung von Häftlingen des Lagers Monowitz 1941–1945. Munich: Saur, 2000.

White, Joseph Robert: “IG Auschwitz: The Primacy of Racial Politics.” Ph.D. dissertation, University of Nebraska at Lincoln, NE, 2000.

[1] Bernd C. Wagner: IG Auschwitz. Zwangsarbeit und Vernichtung von Häftlingen des Lagers Monowitz 1941–1945 (Munich: Saur, 2000), p. 164. (Translated by KL)

[2] Antoni Makowski: “Organisation, Entwicklung und Tätigkeit des Häftlings-Krankenbaus in Monowitz (KL Auschwitz III).” In: Hefte von Auschwitz 15 (1975), pp. 113–81, here p. 122. (Translated by KL)

[3] Wagner: IG Auschwitz, p. 196.

[4] Wagner: IG Auschwitz, p. 165.

[5] This function was performed in succession by the following SS physicians: Bruno Kitt, Hellmuth Vetter, Friedrich Entress, Werner Rohde, Horst Fischer, and Hans-Wilhelm König. See Makowski: Organisation, pp. 128–29; and the texts Organizational Structure and Commandant’s Office of the Buna/Monowitz Concentration Camp and Selection: Declaring Prisoners “Fit for Work” or “Unfit for Work” on this Web page.

[6] In the Buna/Monowitz concentration camp, this position was long held by Gerhard Neubert; his predecessor was Franz Wloka, see Makowski: Organisation, p. 129.