In 1942, when he was twenty-one years old, Oskar Groening was posted to Auschwitz. He almost immediately witnessed a transport arriving at “the ramp” — the platform where the Jews disembarked. “I was standing at the ramp,” he says, “and my task was to be part of the group supervising the luggage from an incoming transport.” He watched while SS doctors first separated men from women and children, and then selected who was fit to work and who should be gassed immediately. “Sick people were lifted on to lorries,” says Groening. “Red Cross lorries — they always tried to create the impression that people had nothing to fear.”
He estimates that between 80 and 90 percent of those on the first transport he witnessed in September 1942 were selected to be murdered at once.
“This process [of selection] proceeded in a relatively orderly fashion but when it was over it was just like a fairground. There was a load of rubbish, and next to this rubbish were ill people, unable to walk, perhaps a child that had lost its mother, or perhaps during searching the train somebody had hidden — and these people were simply killed with a shot through the head. And the kind of way in which these people were treated brought me doubt and outrage. A child was simply pulled on the leg and thrown on a lorry … then when it cried like a sick chicken, they chucked it against the edge of the lorry. I couldn’t understand that an SS man would take a child and throw its head against the side of a lorry … or kill them by shooting them and then throw them on a lorry like a sack of wheat.”