The train disappeared momentarily behind the trees that lined the curve of the road behind Birkenau and then reappeared on the other side. Several troops of prisoners headed off toward the first crematorium, came to a halt, and waited there like hungry people in front of a grocery store or the way people stand in line for theater tickets, waiting for the doors to open. The remaining groups continued down the road that ran along the Gypsy camp to Brescinke: they marched between lush green meadows and fields of yellow rapeseed, their stumbling children at their side, and all those baby carriages raising only a slight puff of dust compared to the clouds thrown up by the SS automobiles speeding by. An endless procession of people. We watched these marches day after day. The people were different, but the image remained the same: so many pilgrims on their way. We lost sight of them near the Brescinke Forest, and less than an hour later the flames rose high behind these woods. Two pillars of fire soared to the heavens. And the yard in front of the crematorium, where these people had been standing, where they had been waiting to enter their gas chambers, was deserted except for the flaming glow that never failed to appear punctually one hour after their entry. It shimmered through the otherwise so harmless-looking side windows, so unsuspicious in their blankness, and licked its way up the towering chimneys. Five huge flames burned day and night, and when they were extinguished, more victims arrived to fuel them anew — a reddish-yellow conflagration of wood and humanity. The sky was red from the glow and the stars paled behind it.
German Jew Dr. Lucie Adelberger on Auschwitz II (Birkenau)
Adelsberger, Lucie. trans. Ray, Susan. contrb. Slavin, Arthur Joseph. Auschwitz: A Doctor's Story. Lebanon, NH: Northeastern University Press. 1995 (originally published in German in 1956). p.83.
Staeglich quotes from Adelsberger in his Auschwitz book. Pages 212-214 in the recent Castle Hill edition. Partly overlapping excerpts with a different translation.
Officially, we were not supposed to know anything about the selections, even as the flames mounted into the sky before our very eyes, and when we were practically suffocated by the odor of burning flesh and by dense smoke.
At the Brescinke woods we lost sight of them, and after hardly an hour, flames ascended behind the Brescinke woods. The flames climbed high into the sky in two places. And the area in front of the crematoria where people had stood in line, waiting for entrance to their death chambers, was deserted. There, too, the flames were glowing, through the side windows, which otherwise seemed so innocuous and unsuspicious, exactly one hour after the people had entered, and mounted from the chimney. Five giant flames blazed day and night, and when they died down, new people came to provide them with fresh fuel, those reddish-yellow fires of wood and human substance. The sky was red from the embers, and the stars obscured. The air was polluted by the sweetish odor of corpses and the smell of burning human bodies and singed hair. The suffocating vapor from ashes lay heavy and smoky over the camp. Baal, the fire god of the Assyrians, couldn’t hold a candle to Hitler, the god of the Nazis. Medieval burnings at the stake were sheer amateurism in comparison with the giant fires that were kindled at Auschwitz after the victims had been gassed (but not always killed) in assembly-line fashion. When we awakened during the night – we who had witnessed this, and yet ate and slept like normal people – the barracks were lit brightly within by the lambent reflection of the huge fires. And when I got up, and sneaked through the back door of the block, and looked at the second crematorium, which was located across from the first one, I saw beside it the open fires into which the bodies of children were being thrown, some dead, others still alive. I heard the screams of the children, saw how fire played on their tender bodies, and no metamorphosis of my being, in this life or the next, will ever expunge this vision from my soul.