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Selection: Declaring Prisoners “Fit for Work” or “Unfit for Work”

Both the SS and I.G. Farben based their dealings with the prisoners in the Buna/Monowitz concentration camp on the principle of selection: Prisoners deemed no longer “fit for work” were sent to their deaths in the gas chambers of Birkenau; those still “fit for work” had to keep working until they too became “Muselmänner” and thus ran the risk of falling victim to a selection.


The selections were carried out by SS physicians, who received exclusive authorization for this task in March 1943 from Department DIII of the SS Wirtschafts- und Verwaltungshauptamt (WVHA; Economic and Administrative Main Office), which was in charge of the concentration camps. In the first few months of the Buna/Monowitz concentration camp’s existence, SS doctor Bruno Kitt (October–December 1942) initially was in charge of the selections, followed in that role by Hellmuth Vetter, a former I.G. Farben employee, until January 1943. From March to October 1943, the SS camp doctor was Friedrich Entress, from October to November 1943, Werner Rohde. Responsibility for the Buna/Monowitz concentration camp next was assumed by SS doctor Horst Fischer, who was replaced by Hans Wilhelm König in September 1944. Fischer realized that the poor living conditions at Buna/Monowitz were causing the prisoners to die more quickly. I.G. Farben plant director Walter Dürrfeld, however, was unwilling to make any changes in their situation. Instead, by imposing a time limit (14 to 21 days) on payment of the daily rates to the SS for sick prisoners, he sought to increase pressure on the SS to keep supplying fresh prisoners who were “fit for work.” Survivor testimony indicates that no more than 5 percent of the prisoners were authorized to be ill, but no documentation of such an agreement between I.G. Farben and the SS has been preserved. In any case, the prisoner infirmary was not large enough to accommodate the number of sick inmates in the camp, so a selection was made once the capacity was exceeded. For I.G. Farben, the upkeep of laborers was not significant, as seemingly inexhaustible multitudes were being deported to Auschwitz from all of Europe.


Selections could be triggered in two ways: by an increase in the number of sick inmates to a level beyond the capacity of the prisoner infirmary, or by complaints lodged with the work deployment directorate of I.G. Auschwitz by foremen and Meister who were dissatisfied with the prisoners’ work performance. Then the management turned to the SS commandant’s office, which arranged for camp-wide selections to “assess the fitness for work of the entire prisoner population.”[1] Frequently selections took place immediately after meetings between the plant management and the SS to discuss work performance.


There were no standardized criteria for the selection, but these hallmarks were especially dangerous: “nutritional edema, complete absence of fatty tissue in the buttocks, suspicion of TB (actual infection was not detectable in Monowitz), fractures, and severe ulcerations.”[2] The extent of the selections depended on the percentage of sick prisoners, but also on the military situation and thus on the (anticipated) number of “new arrivals.” In part, the status of an inmate made a difference; prisoner functionaries were relatively safe from selection. The Political Department, which compiled the transport lists, often removed non-Jewish prisoners from them, so that the percentage of Jews among the inmates who were selected and killed rose to almost 100 percent toward the end of the Buna/Monowitz concentration camp’s existence. In isolated cases, a prisoner could be saved by his occupational skills, as the Meister or construction firm of the work detachment could claim him as a vitally needed skilled worker. Only rarely, however, was this option exercised. In general, once selected, a prisoner had almost no chance of escaping death.

(MN; transl. KL)


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

Ervin Schulhof, affidavit, June 21, 1947, NI-7967. Archive of the Fritz Bauer Institute, Subsequent Nuremberg Trials, Case VI, PDB 79 (e), pp. 7–9.



Setkiewicz, Piotr: “Ausgewählte Probleme aus der Geschichte des IG Werkes Auschwitz.” In: Hefte von Auschwitz 22 (2002), pp. 7–147.

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. 176. (Translated by KL)

[2] Wagner: IG Auschwitz, p. 177.