Combatting Typhus at Auschwitz
When typhus broke out in the Auschwitz camp for the first time in the summer of 1942, the German authorities there responded resolutely. In an effort to halt the disease, Commandant Rudolf Höss ordered a full-scale quarantine (vollständige Lagersperre) of the camp in July 1942. SS men and their families were not allowed to leave the camp area.
As the epidemic continued to spread, Höss ordered further measures, including delousing actions with Zyklon, a prohibition against SS men and their families eating uncooked fruits and vegetables, disinfections of living quarters, obligatory vaccinations, and further restrictions on movement. Special “louse inspection” units were organized, and those who failed to observe the anti-lice measures were punished.note 9
On July 22, 1942, an official in the central Berlin office responsible for concentration camp administration (WVHA) radioed Auschwitz: “I hereby give permission for a five ton truck to go from Auschwitz to Dessau and back, in order to pick up gas [Zyklon] for gassing of the camp, to fight the epidemic that has broken out.” This was just one of several such deliveries.note 10
But these measures proved inadequate. Even as the camp’s hospital blocks were overcrowded with typhus victims, the disease continued to claim many lives. In early December 1942, SS camp physician Dr. Wirths spoke at a meeting that had been called to address the typhus crisis. Reflecting the seriousness of the occasion, the attendees included local and regional government officials, military officers, and important civilian figures.note 11 Wirths reported optimistically that
three large disinfestation, shower and sauna facilities can be put into operation right now, specifically two facilities for the inmates and one for SS troop members. The capacity of these facilities is some 3,000 to 4,000 persons per 24 hours.
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