Glossary of Terms used in Whispering Birches

29.11.2014 09:55


This is the German name of the Oswiecim concentration camp complex. It was set up with the main purpose to exterminate unwanted minorities, but in particular the Jews. The camp probably killed somewhere between 1.5 and 2.0 million people. For more click here.


Also known as Auschwitz II, Birkenau was a major camp complex, in which the Crematoriums / Gas Chambers were based. It was named after the birch tree forest at its back. The novel 'Smoke over the Birches' takes place in the Birkenau part of the camp.  For more click here. 


Also known as Auschwitz III, Monowitz was a slave labour factory complex in Auschwitz. The SS leased Auschwitz inmates to large German industrial companies including IG Farben, Siemens and Krupps. The SS received 3-4 Reichsmarks per inmate. For more click here.


 This was the section within Birkenau where confiscated possessions were collected, disinfected and sent back to Germany. Inmates in this section were relatively well treated. It got its name as the "land of milk and honey". This is where the bulk of the Auschwitz plot takes place. For more click here.


A team who manned the Crematorium. They were separated from the rest of the camp as the Nazis wanted as few witnesses of the liquidation process. These people often suffered the most having to burn their own gassed families. They were liquidated every three months. For more click here.

Block 11

The block in Auschwitz I, where inmates were interrogated by the Gestapo. For more click here.

The Boger Bar

A torture device developed by Head of Gestapo Wilhelm Boger known as the Tiger of Auschwitz. It swung about the room, allowing guards to beat the bound inmate. For more click here.

Black Wall

This was a wall constructed from plaster and hazel branches painetd black. It was used for the firing squad of inmates convicted on trials in Block 11. Its construction was designed to be removed so that no evidence was left behind. For more click here.

The Ramp

This was the collection of platforms onto which arrivals would disembark. The arrivals would be lined up left (women children and often old men) and right (men). Doctor Mengele was responsible for selection. If he pointed his thumb left, you were condemned to the Gas Chamber, but right meant you could enter the camp. For more click here


There were five crematoriums in the Auschwitz camp. Here bodies were burned and disposed of with industrial efficiency. The Crematoriums were normally located above the gas chambers. For more click here.


In October 1944, the members of the Sondercommando rebelled. The action failed due to their primitive weapons, but they succeeded in destroying the Crematorium infrastructure. Gassing stopped shortly after but mainly due to the Nazis liquidating the camp before the Soviets overran it. For more click here.


There were several escapes from Auschwitz, although the Nazis were ruthless in their process of hunting down such people. In the book, the escape of Mihael is very similar to that of Walter Rosenberg. For more click here.  

Vrba-Wetzler Report

This report is widely recognized as one of the most important pieces of evidence of the Auschwitz atrocity. It was written by escapees, Walter Rosenberg and Alfred Wetzler and details the various transports taken into the camp. In the report, it calculates that, up to the time of their escape, the camp had claimed 1.75 million lives. The report arguably was the first true exposée of the camps when published in the NY Times in 1944. For more click here.


This is the formal name given to the SS organization. It was divided into twelve divisions and run by Heinrich Himmler. The concentration camps came under SS administration. For more click here.


These were councils set up by the Germans whereby jews were forced to cooperate with the Nazis. For more click here.


This was the short form for JudenPolizei who like the Judenrat were very unpopular as its members were considered collaborators. For more click here.

German Ranks

It is confusing to understand the German ranks, particularly given that SS and Wehrmacht had different structures. For more click here.