I was reading a criticism in Wikipedia of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas which has a 9-year-old boy in the camp, but people apparently knowledgeable assert this is not realistic -- those who could not work were immediately gassed.

At the same time, Primo Levi describes a very young kid in the camp who dies near the time of its liberation. I think medical experiments were performed on children but otherwise, would there have been children?

EDIT: The guy who objected to the movie made it clear that he thought there were no 9 year olds at all in the camp (I guess Mengele would have chosen children that young on the train platform?) but what of the kid Levi describes who was not only very young (apparently) but also severely disabled?

  • 1
    Can you define an age-limit/range on the term "children"? Anne Frank was 15 when she was deported to Auschwitz, and she wasn't gassed upon arrival. In my eyes she was a child at that age, perhaps in your eyes she wasn't a child anymore.
    – User999999
    Oct 11 '17 at 9:10
  • @User999999: I'm pretty sure he means the children that were too young to work and thus gased on arrival. Oct 11 '17 at 9:19
  • 2
    You should include sources for any references made. Who is Primo Levi and where did he describe this child. There is also a strong quote in the movie entry about the 9 year old. Give the reader as much info as they need to understand the premise of the question.
    – justCal
    Oct 11 '17 at 18:31
  • 1
    @user2448131 I think anyone interested in this area knows who Primo Levi was.
    – Jeff
    Oct 11 '17 at 18:45

If inability to work is your main argument, you should remember children have been heavily involved in the work force until recent times.See Child Labor. Children are still used as labor in some parts of the world today:

In 2010, sub-saharan Africa had the highest incidence rates of child labour, with several African nations witnessing over 50 percent of children aged 5–14 working.

We have laws to protect children now, but these prisoners had no such protection. They worked until they died. Since some children are quite resilient, some survived longer than others.

Some survivors pictured on PBS.

Perhaps you have seen Elie Wiesel speak, or read his books. He was 15.

Wiesel and his father were selected to perform labor so long as they remained able-bodied, after which they were to be killed in the gas chambers.

(emphasis mine)

Note: my answer was to the question as originally worded:Were there children in Auschwitz?, and to the contention that children would have been summarily killed because they were unable to work.

  • Your comment about aged 5-14 addresses even the revised question of "how young." Of course the fact that "children" worked was trivial. The lower age bound (down to 5 or 6 by your answer, is meaningful.
    – Tom Au
    Oct 11 '17 at 20:45
  • @TomAu Yes, I think many of us today are sheltered, not thinking about past atrocities, even as general ones as child labor. Though it adds general information as an answer, its not as specific to the circumstance as I would like. But I don't know that I can bear researching any deeper on this subject matter.
    – justCal
    Oct 11 '17 at 20:52
  • 2
    The other thing I "know" is that it was not age, but physical characteristcs that caused the separation. For instance, the SS guard held out his arm at a certain height, and children (of any age) that could walk under it were killed, and children that were "taller" were spared.
    – Tom Au
    Oct 11 '17 at 20:59

In the words of Rudolf Hoess, Commandant of Auschwitz, in his testimony at Nuremburg in 1946:

Those who were fit for work were sent into the camp. Others were sent immediately to the extermination plants. Children of tender years were invariably exterminated since by reason of their youth they were unable to work.

(my emphasis)

So it seems that there was no hard and fast rule in regard to children. If they looked old (and strong) enough to work, they would be set to work. Otherwise they would be murdered.


What's absurd (or, at least, one of the things that's absurd) about The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is not that there was a 9-year old in the camp, but that a 9-year old in the camp had been given a striped uniform and sent off to work.

The uniforms given to the camp inmates were not tailored, and frequently ill-fitting as a result. If you look at the famous Soviet photograph, of children in Auschwitz, you can see how the uniforms hung off them:

enter image description here

These children, who were all in Auschwitz at the time of its liberation, had not been given uniforms. Uniforms were given to them, for the purposes of this photograph, by their Russian liberators.

So why were little children in Auschwitz?

The overwhelming majority of children who turned up at Auschwitz were selected to go to Birkenau. Some children, whose appearance was such that they might have passed as being over the age of 16, were selected to go and work. But some little children were selected to go to the concentration camp at Auschwitz (Auschwitz I), even at a late stage of the war, and based upon the concern that the Red Cross may wish to investigate the camp. There, the were put in Block 31 of sector BIIb.

Many of those children were brought from Theresienstadt, and the Nazis set up a familienlager in Auschwitz for this purpose. Children were kept with their parents, (obviously) not given uniforms, and were treated better than those outside of the "family camp". Most specifically, they got to hold onto their luggage, and their heads weren't shaved. Some of those children survived the war, although the precise circumstances under which they did so is a matter of historical discussion.

For more information, see David Cesarani, Final Solution: The Fate of the Jews 1933-49, p685 - and his references there (specifically Nili Keren's article in Gutman's Anatomy of the Auschwitz Death Camp). One of the children in the family camp was Otto Dov Kulka, who later wrote Landscapes of the Metropolis of Death.

  • I think it could be argued that even makers of fiction have a responsibility, outside of the plot of the story, to deal with the Holocaust as realistically as possible; and the reasoning behind this is fairly self evident but I would say that telling a story that uses the Holocaust as a setting but is wrong about such details is simply exploiting it. I am not sure that fiction that nonetheless also presents the Holocaust accurately is not also exploiting it but at least accuracy informs.
    – Jeff
    Oct 19 '17 at 6:30

There were children in Auschwitz-Birkenau and even a maternity ward. This video from the Spielberg archive contains an interview with Dina Babbitt Spielberg archive, she worked in a kindergarten in Auschwitz=Birkenau


3000 babies were delivered at Auschwitz - This Midwife at Auschwitz Delivered 3,000 Babies in Unfathomable Conditions: http://www.history.com/news/auschwitz-midwife-stanislawa-leszczynska-saint

It was, though—thanks to a woman named Stanislawa Leszczyńska. During her two-year internment at Auschwitz, the Polish midwife delivered 3,000 babies at the camp in unthinkable conditions. Though her story is little known outside of Poland, it is testament to the resistance of a small group of women determined to help their fellow prisoners. ..... Leszczyńska, assisted by her daughter and other prisoners, later said she delivered 3,000 babies during her two years at Auschwitz. She continued to refuse to kill babies despite repeated orders to do so, even standing up to Dr. Josef Mengele, the camp’s infamous “Angel of Death,” who was known for his brutal experiments on twins and other inmates.

  • 1
    That history.com link seems not to work. However, on the Midwife Without Borders site it notes "Until well into 1943 it is common practice that all new babies are drown [sic] in a barrel shortly after birth". From 1943, some babies "with supposedly ‘Aryan’ features" were "no longer drowned but send to town to be ‘de-nationalized’". So it seems these babies (with the exception of those born just before the liberation of the camp) were not,in fact, left alive in Auschwitz. Jul 2 '18 at 22:46
  • @sempaiscuba re: link: The page exists and is accessible via google & translate, but direct access attempts get me redirected to a site were nothing of the content is available via site-search, for you as well? Anyway, I think that historydotcom is at fault here, due to a kind of geo-blocking? Jul 5 '18 at 10:30
  • @LangLangC Very possible. Although the Midwife Without Borders site also has all the salient points of the story, without the selective quotation seemingly preferred by the OP. Jul 5 '18 at 12:22

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.