On October 7, 1941, a camp was established at Auschwitz for Soviet POWs. About 10,000 men were registered as prisoners and held in a special fenced-off compound comprising blocks 1-3, 12-14, 22-24. Most of them died of hunger, hard work, and SS brutality. Many others were gassed or shot by order of a special Gestapo commission. Those who refused to work were forced naked out of their blocks in the freezing winter weather and doused with water, as a result of which many froze to death.
Within five months, by March 1942, some 9,000 had died. The remainder were transferred to the newly constructed Auschwitz II — Birkenau.
To conceal what was happening in Auschwitz and to reserve further lands for future industrial and agricultural activity, in 1940 the SS declared an area of 40 square km. around Auschwitz and Birkenau Interessengeblet, or special interest zone. Most of the Poles living in the area were expelled in 1940 and 1941. Some of the houses from which the Poles were evicted were assigned to SS personnel and their families. Some were housed to use services for the SS garrison, others were dismantled.
From 1940 to 1944, the camp authorities set up various farms, factories and workshops in this area, using prisoners as slave labor.
Within the Interessengeblet, many thousands of prisoners died from beatings inflicted by SS guards and prisoner overseers (kapos), from the inhumane conditions of slave labor or were simply shot.
The camp authorities designated blocks 19-21 and 28 as an “infirmary” (häftlingskrankenbau) for sick prisoners. Among prisoners it was known as “the crematorium waiting-room.” Medication and treatment facilities were in very short supply and many people died. From 1941, the SS doctors carried out selections among sick prisoners. Those whose return to work was considered unlikely were killed by lethal injection or in the gas chambers.
Patients in the infirmary were in any case frequently used by the SS doctors in medical and pharmacological experiments. Many of them died or suffered permanent injury as a result.
The “infirmary” was a focus of clandestine resistance; especially in helping and rescuing others. Many people were saved because of this.