Maurice Rossel worked for the Red Cross. It was in his remit to inspect prisoner of war, labour and concentration camps. He was relatively inexperienced at the time. The Nazi officers who supervised the camps were also very clever and managed to make things look fine. Probably also it would have been very difficult to believe what was actually happening.
Rossel describes himself at the time he inspected the camps. “Yes, I was 25 years old, thus I was still quite naive, if I say so myself, however a real naive, a real know-nothing who had come from his village and studied in Geneva, who knew nothing of anything but that apprenticeship in the field, that was all.”
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To start with he dealt mainly with the prisoners of war camps. These were overseen by the German Red Cross. Rossel claimed that the people who worked for this organisation were of the old order and not Nazis at all. Red Cross parcels were sent to these people and Rossel and his colleague found that only 5-8% of the goods went missing.
It was quite risky travelling from camp to camp as they were crossing a war zone. They were put up in some luxurious houses, however. Was this an attempt by the Nazis to soften them up?
Rossel in an interview conducted in 2009 claimed that he and his colleagues were ignorant about the extermination camps in 1942-1943. As they met inmates, and he remembers French prisoners of war in particular, they made promises that they would get them out.
He made a surprise visit to Ausschwitz. He had no authorisation to go there. He was received by the camp commander and was offered coffee. They talked about bob-sledding. He was no allowed to meet any of the internees but he was shown the infirmary. He saw nothing of the camp itself though he saw the barracks in the distance. He saw nothing of Birkenau which was just one kilometre form the main camp. He was given the impression that the camp was doing something useful. He noticed some people and it did register that they were rather thin.He is perhaps most well-known for his visit to Theresienstadt. The whole camp was sanitised somewhat so that it seemed almost like a holiday camp. It had parks, cafés a synagogue and what looked like reasonable living quarters. In the main square they had constructed a pavilion on which an orchestra played. He saw one single watch tower. He saw two-tier bunk beds, not the more normal four tiers. The really thin people were hidden form him.
Some of the Jews had to act quite cleverly and look as if they were having an easy time. .
He visited three times altogether, the last time being 23 June 1944. Rossel could see that wealthier Jews had been accommodated there. They were often elderly and had often fought in World War I. His visits there lasted two to three hours.
Rossel was told that the inmates received 2400 calories per day. In fact, they were only given 1200.
Later, Rossel realised that he had been fooled.