Table of Contents
- 1 Auschwitz Concentration Camp
- 2 Auschwitz location
- 3 What is Auschwitz?
- 4 How many people died in Auschwitz
- 5 Auschwitz Gas Chambers
- 6 Auschwitz Photos
- 7 Auschwitz Facts
- 8 Auschwitz Liberation
- 9 Auschwitz now
- 10 Holocaust Memorial Day
Auschwitz Concentration Camp
Auschwitz Concentration Camp was a network of German Nazi Concentration Camps located on polish territories invaded by Third Reich in 1939.
The (in)famous sign “Arbeit macht frei” (work set you free) on the entry gate have become a symbol of dehumanization, work above strength and mass extermination. Auschwitz Concentration Camp witnessed the mass murder of over 1.1 million human beings. Today, to honor the fallen and not forget the history of WWII, museum was established and auschwitz trips are organised in order to prevent such history from happening again.
German Nazi were aware that it was important to choose the adequate location to hold so many prisoners in one place and conduct mass extermination.
The area had to be big enough with an access to well developed railway. This was the reason why Auschwitz site was chosen in the middle of Europe. The exact place is explained below.
Where was Auschwitz located
Auschwitz concentration camp was located in the Province of Upper Silesia in southern polish territory incorporated by Third Reich (Germany) in October 1939. Concentration camps were located in the city of Oświęcim, Brzezinka and Monowice, that were given German names: Auschwitz, Birkenau and Monowitz. The first, main camp called Auschwitz I was formed in deserted barracks. At first, it was a concentration camp for polish political prisoners who opposed German invasion. Later, soviet captives, German criminals, Jews, homosexual, priests were kept there as well. It covert the surface of 15 square miles. At once a few thousands prisoners were kept there. The second site — Auschwitz II was located in the city of Birkenau and covered surface of 140ha. Until 1944 it consisted of 300 different buildings, including barracks, gas chambers with crematoria.
Auschwitz-Birkenau was the death camp where over 1000000 prisoners were killed, mostly Jews.
Auschwitz III was the subcamp for Auschwitz I, located 4.3 miles east. It was used by chemical manufacturer IG Farber. The prisoners from Auschwitz I were working here as well as Poles able to work living in that town.
The Auschwitz concentration camp complex included 45 other satellite camps arranged around the area.
The following concentration camp map shows the location of two main sites of Auschwitz concentration and extermination camps. As you can see on Auschwitz map below:
Auschwitz I – First, more administrative and labour part of Auschwitz.
Auschwitz II (Birkenau) – Large concentration camp where mass extermination happened and gas chambers were located.
Auschwitz III (Monowitz) – Labour camp, IG Farben
Auschwitz location now
Nowadays Auschwitz-Birkenau former German Nazi concentration and extermination camps is transformed into memorial and museum with free of charge access for visitors. The Museum is located on the outskirts of the city of Oświęcim (Auschwitz).
What is Auschwitz?
Before visiting Memorial and Museum it is recommended to get some historical knowledge about Auchwitz Concentration Camp. Auschwitz is a name for a network of German Nazi concentration and extermination camps that were built in southern Poland. As it was mentioned before, it consisted of 3 main sites and 45 other satellite camps.
At first Auschwitz camps were meant for polish intelligence and resistance.
Later, Auschwitz became the final destination for over 1 million inmates. But many people don’t realize the fact that Auschwitz was not only the largest, but also the worst concentration and death camp. It can be said, that what Auschwitz really was, is a symbol of death, the Holocaust, and the destruction of European Jewry.
Nazi Concentration Camp
The idea of concentration camps wasn’t invented by Germans. Actually, the term “concentration” has its origins in camps set up in Cuba in 1897.
The concentration camps were also used by U.S. against Native Americans and the British in the Second Boer War. But it was German Nazi that brought the meaning of a concentration and death camps to a whole new level. Even years after The World War II and many evidences (like corpses, tons of clothing, eye witnesses) there are people who don’t believe that one man could do such a thing to another.
It all started a few years before The World War II, when Adolf Hitler became a Chancellor and gained control of the German police. In March 1933 the first Nazi Concentration Camp was built in Dachau. At first, there were hold and tortured the political opponents. Later, the Dachau camp was used to separate “racially undesirable elements” – Jews, criminals, homosexuals, and Romani.
As the Second World War started with the German Nazi invasion of Poland, more camps were needed to place new prisoners. This is why, German Nazi decided to build more camps on invaded territories.
The purpose of the camps expanded from forced labour and detention of enemies of the state to mass murders.
What happened in Auschwitz
It is said that Auschwitz Concentration Camp was the worst concentration and extermination camp. So what actually happened there?
The prisoners were deprived of space, food (700 cal per day), sleep, medical attention and were forced to work over strength. The SS guards punished them as they pleased, usually to the death.
The prisoners from across the Europe (mostly Jews) were transported to Auschwitz since June 1940 and forced to work, usually to the death. After the transport of new prisoners arrived, people were selected into two group. The ones that were able to work were admitted to camp and assigned to forced labour. To dehumanize them, their hair were completely cut off and all their clothes and belongings were taken away. Instead, they were given striped prison uniforms and a pair of shoes. They were registered and tattooed with a serial number. The prisoners slept together in barracks, usually with three inmates per wooden bunk. A bucket was used as a toilet and the cold shower was once a week.
Some prisoners were chosen by doctors and the experiments were conducted on them.
Among many doctors of Auschwitz the most notorious were Dr. Carl Clauberg and Dr. J. Mengele. The first one focused on women sterilization with X-Rays and injection of various substances into women’s uteri. Mengele especially searched for identical twins to find a way to clone a perfect Aryan.
What was holocaust
Basically, holocaust is a genocide of Jews. The first repressions started with discrimination, followed by separation and arrival to concentration camp. The Final Solution meant the murder all the Jews and destruction of their culture.
During the World War II around 6 millions Jews died or were killed which was half of their population. (Data varies depending on source)
In a broader sense holocaust concerns Jews and millions other victims murdered in German Nazi death camps.
Can you visit Auschwitz
Two years after Auschwitz liberation, in 1947 the State Memorial to the victims was established. The first exhibition was opened in 1955. In 1979 the camp was added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Admission to the grounds of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum is free of charge, but it is suggested to hire an educator. During the visit hours the grounds and buildings of the Auschwitz Concentration Camp I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau camps are open to visitors. While on the grounds of the Museum, you are required to observe the appropriate solemnity and respect.
It is advised to book your visit earlier due many visitors. You can also buy an organised trip to Auschwitz.
How many people died in Auschwitz
The method of the disposal of the dead bodies of inmates in Auschwitz make it almost impossible to calculate how many people actually died or were killed there. Moreover, many of prisoners were never registered and thousands of them never make it to the camp, dying during transportation. Furthermore, when Red Army was about to approach Poland, Himmler gave the order to burn all the files. It all makes it difficult to calculate how many people died in Auschwitz concentration camp.
Although the exact number is unknown, it is said that around 90% of all prisoners that ever arrived to Auschwitz death camp died or were killed.
After Red Army liberate concentration camp in Auschwitz, the Soviet government claimed that around 4 millions people were killed on the site. Later, according to Höss testimony 2.5 million Jews were killed in gas chambers and 0.5 million died of other causes. Both calculations seemed to be exaggerated.A French Scholar George Wellers used German data on deportation and estimated a figure of 1 471 595 deaths, including 1.35 million Jews and 86 675 Poles.
In the 1990s the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum adopted estimations of Franciszek Piper. According to his study 1.1 million people died or were killed in Auschwitz, including 960 000 Jews. He combined timetables of train arrivals with deportation records.
|Jews – by nationatilty||Number of dead|
|Other||up to 15 000|
Among 960 000 Jews:
- 438 000 were Hungarian
- 300 000 were Poles
- 70 000 from France
- 60 000 from Holland
- 55 000 from Greece
- 46 000 from Czech Republic
- 26 000 from Slovakia
- 23 000 from Germany and Austria
- 10 000 from Yugoslavia.
The meaning of concentration and death camp was the separation and extermination of “racially undesirable elements” like Jews, criminals, homosexuals, Romani, Jehovah Witnesses or mentally ill. Political opponents and resistance were also sent to Auschwitz.
Till March 1942 most of Auschwitz prisoners were Poles.
But as Auschwitz death camp was the largest, the prisoners were transported there throughout Europe. Franciszek Piper estimated that at least 1.3 million people were brought here. Most of them were murdered in gas chambers just after arrival. The rest was used as a cheap forced labour. They were used for building bunkers and another buildings of the concentration camp. Or they worked in factory in Auschwitz III.
|Nationality||Number of Auschwitz prisoners|
|Jews||1 100 000|
|Other||over 30 000|
Survivors of Auschwitz
Although 90% of all prisoners died or were killed there were survivors. Some of them manage to escape, some waited the liberation. You can read more about Auschwitz Survivors such as Eva Mozes, a drama she lived through Mengele’s experiments. Gena Turgel who survived a gas chamber.
Auschwitz Gas Chambers
German Nazi created two plans for depopulation. The Hunger Plan assumed the starvation of 3 million people of the conquered territories. The Final Solution of the Jewish question supposed to exterminate the whole Jewish population. At first gas vans and firing squads were used to murder Auschwitz prisoners. But on such a scale it was impracticable.
The solution of mass extermination were Auschwitz Concentration Camp gas chambers.
Auschwitz Concentration camp gas chambers
About 122 SS personnel were assigned to supervise the gas chambers in Auschwitz.
But the unit called Sonderkommando was forced to work in gas chambers and crematoria. Sonderkommando consisted of 2000 prisoners, mostly Jewish.
They lived separately, in slightly better conditions. They were given goods from murdered prisoners and sometimes they stole for themselves. Almost everyone of Sommderkommando died. Many committed suicide, couldn’t stand the extermination. Many were shot in a matter of weeks, immediately replaced with others.
The first mass extermination in Auschwitz Concentration camp gas chamber took place on September 1941 in a basement of Block 11. About 900 inmates were killed within 20 minutes, but the building proved unsuitable.
The exterminations were moved to Crematorium I in Auschwitz I that could contain over 700 victims at once.
Crematorium I operated until July 1942. Then it was transformed into storage facility and aid raid shelter for the SS. After the war Auschwitz gas chambers and crematorium were reconstructed. About 60 000 prisoners were murdered in that particular place.
Since summer of 1942 mass exterminations took place in Auschwitz II – Birkenau gas chambers in Bunkers 1 and 2. Successively build Crematoria II, III, IV and V were used for corps disposal. Bunker 2 was used particularly for Hungarian Jews extermination from May to November 1944. In summer even 20 000 prisoners were killed per day.
Before Auschwitz liberation, Himmler ordered to cease gassing and destroy crematoria. Sonderkommando was forced to remove the evidence of killing, like mass graves.
Holocaust Gas Chambers
Jews and others able to work were admitted to the concentration camp. The rest, too weak to work, almost all children, women with small children and elderly were taken to holocaust gas chambers and killed immediately. People unable to walk were transported by lorry or killed on spot with the bullet to the head.
To keep prisoners calm they were told they were about to take shower and undergo delousing. The holocaust gas chambers were disguised as shower facilities, sometimes even with soap and towels. Prisoners were told to take their clothes off and enter the chamber.
Then the doors were locked and pellets of Zyklon B was dumped in. Despite the thick walls, the screaming and moaning were heard outside for a long minutes. After the extermination the Sonderkommando wearing the gas masks dragged out the bodies and burned them in incinerators. The ashes of the victims were buried, thrown in the river or used as fertilizer.
At the State Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau the photographs showing the permanent and national exhibitions. There are also many photos of Auschwitz-Birkenau that can be found on-line.
There are some Auschwitz and Holocaust facts that you should know. The main camp of Auschwitz was like a small town, with its own staff canteen, cinema, theatre and grocery store.
- About 60 million Reichmarks, equivalent to £125m today, was generated for the Nazi state by slave labour at Auschwitz during the Holocaust.
- Auschwitz was first constructed to hold Polish political prisoners, who began to arrive in May 1940, but eventually more people died in Auschwitz than the British and American losses of World War II combined.
- 1 in 6 Jews killed in the Holocaust died at Auschwitz. Besides Jews, others deported to Auschwitz included 150,000 Poles, 23,000 Romani and Sinti, 15,000 Soviet prisoners of war and 400 Jehovah’s Witnesses.
- 144 prisoners are known to have escaped from Auschwitz successfully. In 1942, four Auschwitz inmates successfully escaped by stealing SS officer uniforms and driving a stolen Nazi car through the camp’s front gate. On July 21, 1944, inmate Jerzy Bielecki dressed in an SS uniform and using a faked pass, managed to cross the Auschwitz’s gate together with his Jewish girlfriend, Cyla. Both survived the war. On the other hand, Witold Pilecki, a Polish soldier, volunteered to be imprisoned in Auschwitz in order to gather information, escape and let the world know about the Holocaust.
Polish midwife Stanislawa Leszczynska helped pregnant women in Auschwitz deliver over 3,000 babies.
- Antoni Dobrowolski, the oldest known survivor of Auschwitz, died aged 108 on October 21, 2012, in Poland.
- During a revolt at the Auschwitz Concentration Camp, a member of the SS was stabbed, then burned alive in a crematorium oven. Of a total of about 7,000 staff at Auschwitz, only 750 were ever punished. Auschwitz’s camp commandant
- Rudolf Hoss, was arrested in 1946, convicted of murder and hanged at the camp. In Auschwitz, an SS guard fell in love with a Jewish prisoner. He saved her life multiple times and she testified on his behalf during his post-war trial.
- After Auschwitz became a museum in 1947, exhumation work lasted for more than a decade.
- Jewish people were excluded form public life in 1935 when Nuremberg Law was issued
- About third of all Jewish people at that time were killed during WWII Holocaust
- Holocaust denial is a crime in over 17 countries including Germans and Austria.
- Two Polish doctors saved over 8000 Jews from Holocaust by faking a typhus epidemic in their town.
- 99% Danish Jews survived because of mass evacuation to neutral Sweden.
- Before Holocaust Hitler gave a chance to countries like U.S and Great Britain to take Jew refugees. They refused.
- During the Holocaust, a Jewish woman exposed up to 3,000 hiding Jews to the Gestapo to save her family. Even after the Nazis sent her parents and husband to Auschwitz anyway in 1943, she continued to work for the Gestapo until 1945.
- The company that created Zyklon B, the gas that was used to kill millions of Jews in the Holocaust, still exists as a pest control company.
- Bayer, famous for producing aspirin, bought prisoners from Auschwitz to use as research subjects for testing new drugs.
- After WWII the group of Jews tried to poison millions of people in Germany, by poisoning the water supply but the action was foiled by British Police during the poison transit.
In mid-1944 there were 130 000 prisoners in Auschwitz concentration camp. Half of them were supposed to move as the Soviet Red Army was approaching Poland. Himmler ordered ceasing gassing, destroying reports, blowing up crematoria and other buildings.
Evacuation of Auschwitz started in January 1945. On 17th January 1945 about 56 000-58 000 prisoners started the death march toward Wodzisław Śląski.
Severe winter, exhaustion and starvation made thousands of them died during the walk. Prisoners too slow or too weak to walk were shot immediately. The ones who made it to Gross-Rosen concentration camp along with other prisoners were forced to walk again on February as the camp was overcrowded. About 44 000 inmates were forced to move west. The number of dead during this march was unknown.
It is said that 20 000 Auschwitz prisoners make it to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp where they were finally liberate in April 1945 by British. Probably more prisoners would be dead, but Himmler forbid any more killing as he hoped to use prisoners as a hostage.
In 27th January Red Army liberate Auschwitz Concentration Camp. Soviets found 7500 prisoners and 600 corpses. As they looked, they found 370000 men’s suite, 837000 women’s garments and 7.7 tons of human hair.
Lorries with bread arrived the next day. Volunteers offered first aid and assistance. Hospital cared for 4500 patients suffering from starvation, alimentary dystrophy, gangrene, necrosis, internal haemorrhaging, typhoid fever. About 500 of liberate prisoners died.
The post-camp relics are protected by the Museum created in 1947. The buildings and crematoria destroyed before liberation were rebuilt with original material. The Museum was named the World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Over million people visits Auschwitz every day. In 2016 the record was break as over 2 530 000 visited German Nazi concentration and extermination camp in Auschwitz.
Holocaust Memorial Day
Holocaust Memorial Day refers to an annual day designated to honour the victims, survivors and rescuers of the Holocaust during the Nazi German regime. Different countries chose various dates, but most of them chose the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz concentration camp by the Soviet Union in 1945 (27th January).
|27th January||European Union, Czech Republic, Germany, Greece, Italy, Sweden, United Kingdom,
United Nations (International Holocaust Remembrance Day – commemorating the tragedy of the Holocaust that occurred during the Second World War)
|27th Nisan (april/may)||Israel, (and many Jewish communities in other countries), Canada|
|8-day period, from the Sunday before Yom Hashoah to the Sunday after Yom Hashoah||USA|