Deportations were the transportation of Jews and other prisoners to Nazi concentration and extermination camps. Beginning with the implementation of the Final Solution after the summer of 1941, Jews were rounded up in ghettos and deported to camps where they were either killed or forced into slave labor. These deportations most commonly used the rail system for transport, with freight and cattle cars shuffling prisoners across the European continent. For shorter distances, Nazis frequently deported prisoners by truck or on foot.
Nazis portrayed deportations as “resettlement” to labor camps in the East to avoid panic. Prior to deportations, Nazis would order the Judenrat (Jewish Councils) to gather Jews from the community for deportation. With the assistance of the Jewish ghetto police, Jews were rounded up and herded into train cars. Roundups initially focused on weaker groups—the sick, the poor, and the old. Others initially thought they could escape deportations. Toward the end of the war, however, the remaining Jews were rounded up in the ghettos for final deportations, an action that was called “liquidation.”
The train cars used for deportations were overcrowded, exposed to intense heat and cold, had no ventilation, and had no sanitary facilities. Prisoners were not given food or water for the often days-long journeys and many died of starvation before reaching their destination. Those who died in the cars were kept there among their loved ones until their arrival at the camp sites, adding to the misery in the cattle cars. Anyone who attempted to escape from the transport was shot.
Initial deportations went primarily to labor camps, but as the war progressed, prisoners were sent to extermination camps. After the winter of 1943, deportations were primarily sent to Auschwitz. Most Jews from the Będzin ghetto and its surrounding areas were sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Upon arrival, Nazis herded the prisoners out of the train cars for selection. Some were selected for slave labor, but the majority of Jews were sent directly to their death in the gas chambers.
For more information on deportations: