Attentive observers have noted items or facilities at the so-called death camps that seem entirely inappropriate, and which in fact suggest a much-more benign usage of those camps. The brothel at the Auschwitz Main Camp is one such item, and the “zoo” at Treblinka is another. Then we have the barber shop, dentist, and shoemaker at Belzec, and the dentist, carpenter, and painter’s shop at Sobibór. Such luxuries naturally belie the “death camp” image that is commonly promoted. Orthodox scholars claim that such things were strictly for SS and officer use, but still, they are remarkably odd amenities for such camps.
One of the strangest such objects is perhaps the swimming pool at Auschwitz Main Camp. It is a large rectangular pool, about 30 m long by 5 m wide, located at the rear-center of the camp, within sight of the main road. By all appearances, it was an actual swimming pool: it has entry/exit ladders at both ends; three low diving blocks at both ends; and a 3-m high block at one end (with the diving board missing today).
Around the year 2000, museum officials added a revealing sign at the pool that reads: “Fire brigade reservoir built in the form of a swimming pool, probably in early 1944.” Clearly, Polish museum officials were worried about the “look” of a swimming pool at the most notorious death camp in history, so they concocted an excuse: it was really a fire-water reservoir, but “disguised” by the SS to look like a pool – in the same way that those gas chambers were allegedly disguised to look like ordinary shower rooms (which they were). Unlike the showers, there is no obvious reason to disguise a water reservoir – unless it was to make the inmates feel like they had been interned in some kind of vacation resort, and thus to make no trouble as they were being herded off to the gas chambers. Clearly, this is an absurd proposition.
Another issue is the alleged creation of the pool in “early 1944.” We recall that the camp was opened in May 1940, and was allegedly functioning as a mass-gassing facility for two full years at that point. It seems very odd that camp managers did not see the need for a fire reservoir until “early 1944.”
Worse still, there was a 2007 film made about the pool, called Swimming in Auschwitz, telling the story of six teenage Jewesses at the camp (incredibly, they all survived). For them, the pool was clearly… a swimming pool. Here is a quotation from the film’s website:
“The film’s title derives from its most powerful story. Marching through the camp on a particularly hot August day, the group passed by a swimming pool kept for Nazi officers. For one of the women, this sight was just too tempting. To the shock of the rest of the group, she jumped in the pool and swam from one end to the other.”
Someone obviously forgot to inform the girls that this was really a fire reservoir; of course, the museum sign was not yet posted in 1944. Furthermore, the “August” must have been August of 1944, which was just at the end of the deadliest sustained gassing activities at the camp: up to 200,000 Jews gassed per month, allegedly. One would think that, under such perilous conditions, teenage girls would hardly risk swimming in the SS pool; that would have meant a sure trip to the gas chambers. Yet one did, and they paid no price at all.
Furthermore, few people know that there are a series of smaller pools at Birkenau. These are squarer in design, and lack ladders or diving blocks. The sloped sides clearly indicate that these were in fact fire reservoirs, unlike the one in Auschwitz.
Finally, there is a credible witness testimony from right after the war, elucidating what this pool was all about. During the war, Marc Klein, a French-Jewish biology professor from Strasbourg, was arrested in his hometown in 1944, and incarcerated at the Auschwitz Main Camp for a while. Right after the war, he described in his memoirs how inmates in this camp managed to pursue various activities. Among them were also water-ball games, which selected inmates played “in the outdoor pool that had been built by inmates within the camp.” Many other inmates stood around the pool and cheered on the water athletes. (See the entry on Marc Klein for details.)
From late 1943, Auschwitz camp authorities implemented air-raid protection measures inside and outside the camp. This included air-raid shelters and fire-extinguishing water reservoirs. In the Birkenau Camp, a series of smaller pools were set up that served exclusively this purpose. At the Main Camp, however, the camp officials evidently took a combined approach, merging the necessity of a fire-extinguishing pool with the usefulness of a swimming pool. Documents show that the camp administration had been ordered from Berlin to offer all kinds of privileges to those inmates who behaved, cooperated, and had good work ethics. It stands to reason that many spare-time activities – swimming in the pool included – were offered as incentives to implement this policy. This is standard practice in prisons around the world.
While documents about the planning and construction of the pool must have been abundant during its creation, none seem to have survived. Considering that the documentation for almost all the rest of the camp’s construction activities is virtually complete, this raises the suspicion that someone tried to hide from the world the benign nature of this pool, and the benign intentions of the camp administration in building it.