Railway Ramp in Auschwitz II-Birkenau

The significance of the railway ramp in the Holocaust

In line with the assumptions of the Final Solution to the Jewish Question laid down during the Wannsee Conference in January 1942, the railways were the main means by which prisoners of many different nationalities and ethnicities, including Jews, Hungarians and Roma, would be transported to the Auschwitz camp. These trains would only stop alongside specially built platforms, known as ramps.

The first ramp, located near the Auschwitz I camp, was the place where the transports stopped throughout the whole time that the main camp was in operation. A second ramp, part of the freight station, was built in 1942. A rail spur led from there to a third ramp, located in the grounds of the Auschwitz II-Birkenau camp, which was completed just before May 1944, when the mass transports of Hungarian Jews started.

Location

The ramp in Auschwitz II is located in the central part of the camp. At the beginning of 1944, a railway line led there from the east, running through the gate in the building where the sightseeing route begins today. From the west, the ramp adjoined crematoria II and III (where a monument now stands between them). To the south of the ramp were sectors BIa and BIb, which had a gate between them, and sector BII was on the northern side. This was the largest sector in terms of area, with smaller sectors ranging from BIIa to BIId.

The ramp at the Auschwitz II camp

Operation of the ramp – the history of the Holocaust

The plan to extend the Auschwitz II camp that was devised at the end of 1941 involved building a new ramp. Construction began in 1943 and finished in the spring of 1944.

In the period from May to October 1944, this was the place where the ‘selections’ took place. In just two months (May-June 1944), 430,000 Jews from Hungary were deported to the camp, while in the autumn of the same year 67,000 Jews arrived from the ghetto in Łódź. During the Warsaw
Uprising, transports containing residents of the capital also arrived in Birkenau. The ramp in Birkenau, just like the other two ramps, was where the prisoners were loaded onto trains and transported to other Auschwitz sub-camps or concentration camps around the whole of Europe.

Selection on the ramp at Auschwitz-Birkenau, 1944

The ramp as a memorial place

The tour around Auschwitz II-Birkenau includes the railway ramp, along with an original German railway wagon placed on a section of track. A few minutes after passing through the entrance gate, walking in the direction of the monument and the ruins of the crematoria, you should turn right and stop next to the ramp. It is several hundred metres long, and surrounded on both sides by the tracks of a railway siding. This was the place, well-known from the photographs contained in the Auschwitz Album belonging to Lili Jacob, where selection of the deportees was carried out. The railway wagon symbolises the tragedy of those who were admitted to Birkenau, as well as
the large numbers of people who died during the transports themselves, which would sometimes last many days. There are inscriptions on two small boards commemorating the Hungarian victims.

A freight car on the ramp at Auschwitz II