German railroad officials used both freight and passenger cars for the deportation of prisoners to concentration camps. Packed in sealed wagons and suffering from overcrowding, those transported endured intense heat during the summer and freezing temperatures during the winter. Aside from a bucket, there were no sanitary facilities. The stench of urine and excrement added to the humiliation and suffering of the deportees. Lacking food and water, many of them died before the trains reached their destinations. Armed police guards accompanied the transports and had orders to shoot anyone who tried to escape.
From 1942 to the end of summer 1944, trains arrived at Auschwitz-Birkenau daily, with transports containing thousands of Jews from every country in Europe occupied by, or allied to, Germany. In total, approximately 1.1 million Jews were deported to Auschwitz. The majority of those never entered the camp, but only crossed it on the way to the gas chambers.
In March 1942, trains carrying Jews began arriving daily at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Sometimes several trains would arrive on the same day, each carrying thousands of people from across Europe. The majority arrived in a state of total collapse. After spending days travelling, in cramped conditions without food or water, they were disorientated and weak.
On arrival at Auschwitz, the doors of the train were flung open. Prisoners wearing the camp's striped uniform met the new arrivals, screaming in German Aussteigen, schnell, schneller (Get out, hurry, hurry). SS guards with whips paraded up and down the platform with dogs, while harsh spotlights illuminated the platform. Men and women were separated, and were whipped if they did not immediately obey orders.
New arrivals at Auschwitz-Birkenau would then undergo 'selection.' An SS doctor would determine if those arriving were fit for work, directing prisoners to left or right. Those deemed able to work were sent to the right and entered the concentration camp as forced labour. Those sent left were immediately taken to the gas chambers. Those selected to die, normally about three-quarters of the total, included almost all children, women with children, all the elderly, and all those who appeared on brief and superficial inspection by an SS doctor not to be completely fit. Selections also occurred at random intervals after entry into the camps, to weed out the sick. The last selection at Auschwitz-Birkenau happened in November 1944.