Friday, March 14, 2014

Auschwitz had a whorehouse in it!

Block 24, the prostitute house ... right by the front gate at Auschwitz
(photo from
 (18th in a series)
     For more than 2 1/2 years, my father -- Louis Van Thyn -- never spoke to a woman, never got close. That's the way it was in the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.
     The men prisoners knew there were women in the camp; that was obvious. They had arrived on the cattle-car and regular trains going in; in Dad's case, in October 1942.
     Once there, though, the men went one way; the women and children went another way. In both cases, many went immediately to their deaths in the gas chambers.
      The men were housed -- as it were -- in one part of the camp. The women they could see far away through the seemingly hundred fences surrounding the prisoners. You know that if you've seen the photos of the camps.
       What the men also knew because word got around was that there was a building that housed prostitutes. But certainly, they weren't there for the Jewish prisoners. When the Nazi officers -- and perhaps the SS guards -- weren't having their fun beating the crap out of prisoners or berating them or working them beyond imagination or, well, killing them, they had their fun in another way.
       Yes, to make a bad line out of it in a takeoff of the theme song for a famed play and 1982 movie starring Dolly Parton and Burt Reynolds: Auschwitz had a whorehouse in it!     
        Not only Auschwitz, but several of the Nazi concentration camps. My Dad talked about it in his 1996 Holocaust interview with the USC Shoah Foundation.      
         "... There was a prostitute house in Auschwitz," he told the interviewer, and referring to the kapos -- the trustee inmates who oversaw the prisoners at the satellite camp where Dad was located -- "they had coupons and the [Nazis] picked them up in a truck and they could go to Auschwitz for a day. The German and Polish inmates, not Jewish, they got special treatment. They could go to the whorehouse in Auschwitz."
         He remembered that "[just] as we came in there, in Auschwitz ... they built a whorehouse right by the [main] gate where you come in. ... Yeah, we knew that. We saw the women, too; they were walking over there in the yard, over the street, going to Block 10."
        And here is a connection. My mother [Rose] -- who was not yet his wife; they lived in the same neighborhood in Amsterdam growing up, but weren't really acquaintances -- was a prisoner in Block 10, the infamous medical experimentation "block" for women.
        "She was telling me," Dad said in the interview, "they [the prostitutes] lived in Block 10 the first couple of months before they come over there [to the whorehouse]."
        From a "Women in Auschwitz" web site:
        "German prostitutes could also work in the camp whorehouse, which was located on the first floor of Block 24 in Auschwitz I and which had been established for specially 'honoured,' usually 'Aryan' prisoners. Some SS officials ignored all prohibitions of the racial laws and took up relationships with female prisoners, who -- to a certain extent --  could benefit a while from such relations. But mostly, SS guards would not hesitate to kill their lover if she endangered him."
         Dad's recollection was that "they were German girls, but they were not Jewish. ... Yeah, they were prisoners," he answered to a question. "Now what they have done before, if they were already prostitutes, I don't know that.
         "I don't know that," he repeated. "But there were about 20 there, in the [house] right by the 'Arbeit Macht Frei' sign [over the front gate]. On the right side was the orchestra [house] and on the left side, they made a new block, a new barracks. Don't know what they called it, but that was built especially for that [the prostitutes]."
         The interviewer asked Dad: "Did you ever talk to any of them?"
         "No, no," he replied. "We no have talked. After I go off the train coming to Auschwitz, we had some women in the train, that was the last time I talked to a woman until after Janina in 1945. I no see or hear nothing from a woman until that time."
           Only from a far distance did he see any women.
           "We saw the women come into Block 10," Dad remembered. "Found out later that a cousin of mine was there, and his wife, too -- later they lived in Israel -- and she saw Rose and said that is a cousin of yours walking. She fed her husband -- don't know how she did it -- but she helped keep him alive."
           And there, that last point, is one of those memories Dad had that is not quite clear, one of those I wish -- oh, how I wish -- I could've cleared up with him. But because I had no idea that I would one day transcribe his testimony tape and write this series for a blog -- a blog? -- I have to leave it as it is.
            So Auschwitz had a whorehouse in it! Not quite as entertaining as the play or the movie, is it?
            (Next: The camp guards and some horrible sights)



  1. From Jim McLain: I am enjoying your dad's account of his time in the Death Camp. What a horrible experience, but to his credit, he was always upbeat in my conversations with him.

  2. From Pam Shaw White: Read an article today in our local Baton Rouge paper that made me think of you and your parents. The article was about twins who were at Auschwitz. How they survived was a miracle. Hard to not be very emotional reading it and thinking of your dear parents. So thankful for all you have shared about them. I didn't know them, but feel like I am getting to with all you tell about them in your blog.