Auschwitz: Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.

Did you know ...

More interesting facts on Auschwitz

Include this on your site/blog:


(Redirected to Auschwitz concentration camp article)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


The entrance to Auschwitz I. The now notorious motto over the gate, "Arbeit macht frei," translates as "Work makes you free."
Auschwitz concentration camp is located in Poland
Location of Auschwitz in Poland
Coordinates 50°02′09″N 19°10′42″E / 50.03583°N 19.17833°E / 50.03583; 19.17833Coordinates: 50°02′09″N 19°10′42″E / 50.03583°N 19.17833°E / 50.03583; 19.17833
Location Oświęcim, German-occupied Poland
Operated by the German Schutzstaffel (SS)
Original use Army barracks
Operational May 1940–January 1945
Inmates mainly Jews, Roma, Soviet prisoners of war, Poles
Killed 1.1 million (estimated)
Liberated by Soviet Union, January 27, 1945
Notable inmates Viktor Frankl, Primo Levi, Witold Pilecki, Rudolf Vrba, Elie Wiesel
Notable books If This is a Man, Night, Man's Search for Meaning
Website Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum

Auschwitz (German pronunciation: [ˈaʊʃvɪʦ]; About this sound Konzentrationslager Auschwitz ) was a network of concentration and extermination camps built and operated in occupied Poland by Nazi Germany during the Second World War. It was the largest of the German concentration camps, consisting of Auschwitz I (the Stammlager or main camp); Auschwitz II-Birkenau (the Vernichtungslager or extermination camp); Auschwitz III-Monowitz, also known as Buna-Monowitz (a labor camp); and 45 satellite camps.[1]

Auschwitz is the German name for Oświęcim, the town the camps were located in and around; it was renamed by the Germans after they invaded Poland in September 1939. Birkenau, the German translation of Brzezinka (birch tree), refers to a small Polish village nearby that was mostly destroyed by the Germans to make way for the camp.

Auschwitz II-Birkenau was designated by Heinrich Himmler, Germany's Minister of the Interior, as the locus of the "final solution of the Jewish question in Europe." From spring 1942 until the fall of 1944, transport trains delivered Jews to the camp's gas chambers from all over Nazi-occupied Europe.[2] The camp's first commandant, Rudolf Höss, testified after the war at the Nuremberg Trials that up to three million people had died there, a figure since revised to 1.1 million, around 90 percent of them Jews.[3] Others deported to Auschwitz included 150,000 Poles, 23,000 Roma and Sinti, 15,000 Soviet prisoners of war, and tens of thousands of people of diverse nationalities.[4] Those not killed in the gas chambers died of starvation, forced labor, lack of disease control, individual executions, and medical experiments.[5]

On January 27, 1945, Auschwitz was liberated by Soviet troops, a day commemorated around the world as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. In 1947, Poland founded a museum on the site of Auschwitz I and II, which by 1994 had seen 22 million visitors—700,000 annually—pass through the iron gates crowned with the infamous motto, Arbeit macht frei ("work makes you free").




Main camps

Surveillance photo showing location of three main camps

The Auschwitz complex of camps encompassed a large industrial area rich in natural resources. There were 48 camps in all. The three main camps were Auschwitz I, Auschwitz II-Birkenau, and a work camp called Auschwitz III-Monowitz, or the Buna. Auschwitz I served as the administrative center, and was the site of the deaths of roughly 70,000 people, mostly ethnic Poles and Soviet prisoners of war. Auschwitz II was an extermination camp or Vernichtungslager, the site of the deaths of at least 960,000 Jews, 75,000 Poles, and some 19,000 Roma (Gypsies). Auschwitz III-Monowitz served as a labor camp for the Buna-Werke factory of the IG Farben concern. The SS-Totenkopfverbände (SS-TV) was the SS organization responsible for administering the Nazi concentration camps for the Third Reich. The SS-TV was an independent unit within the SS with its own ranks and command structure. Obersturmbannführer Rudolf Höss was overall commandant of the Auschwitz complex from May 1940–November 1943; Obersturmbannführer Arthur Liebehenschel from November 1943–May 1944; and Sturmbannführer Richard Baer from May 1944–January 1945.

Yisrael Gutman writes that it was in the concentration camps that Hitler's concept of absolute power came to fruition. Primo Levi, who described his year in Auschwitz in If This Is a Man, wrote:

[N]ever has there existed a state that was really "totalitarian." ... Never has some form of reaction, a corrective of the total tyranny, been lacking, not even in the Third Reich or Stalin's Soviet Union: in both cases, public opinion, the magistrature, the foreign press, the churches, the feeling for justice and humanity that ten or twenty years of tyranny were not enough to eradicate, have to a greater or lesser extent acted as a brake. Only in the Lager [camp] was the restraint from below non-existent, and the power of these small satraps absolute.[6]

Auschwitz I

Auschwitz I entrance

Auschwitz I was the original camp, serving as the administrative center for the whole complex. The site for the camp—16 one-story buildings—had earlier served as Polish army artillery barracks. It was first suggested as a site for a concentration camp for Polish prisoners by SS-Oberfuhrer Arpad Wigand an aide to SS Higher and Police Leader for Silesia, Erich von dem Bach Zelewski. Bach Zeleski had been searching for a site to house prisoners in the Silesia region as the local prisons were filled to capacity. Richard Glucks head of the Inspectorate for Concentration Camps sent former Sachsenhausen commandant, Walter Eisfeld to inspect the site. Glucks informed SS Reichsfuhrer Heinrich Himmler, that a camp would be built on the site on February 21, 1940. [7]Rudolf Höss would oversee the development of the camp and serve as the first commandant, SS-Obersturmführer Josef Kramer was appointed Höss's deputy.[8] Local residents were evicted, including 1,200 people who lived in shacks around the barracks, creating an empty area of 40 sq kms, which the Germans called the "interest area of the camp." Three hundred Jewish residents of Oświęcim were brought in to lay foundations. The first prisoners—30 German criminal prisoners from the Sachsenhausen camp—arrived in May 1940, intended to act as functionaries within the prison system. The first transport of 728 Polish prisoners which included 20 Jews arrived on June 14, 1940 from the prison in Tarnow, Poland. They were interned in the former building of the Polish Tobacco Monopoly adjacent to the site, until the camp was ready. The inmate population grew quickly, as the camp absorbed Poland's intelligentsia and dissidents, including the Polish underground resistance. By March 1941, 10,900 were imprisoned there, most of them Poles.[8]

Map of Aushwitz I, shows Polish Tobacco Monopoly building; 1940

The SS selected some prisoners, often German criminals, as specially privileged supervisors of the other inmates (so-called: kapos). Although involved in numerous atrocities, only two were ever prosecuted for their individual behavior; many were deemed to have had little choice but to act as they did.[9] The various classes of prisoners were distinguishable by special marks on their clothes; Jews and Soviet prisoners of war were generally treated the worst. All inmates had to work in the associated arms factories, except on Sundays, which were reserved for cleaning and showering. The harsh work requirements, combined with poor nutrition and hygiene, led to high death rates among the prisoners. Block 11 of Auschwitz (the original standing cells and such were Block 13) was the "prison within the prison", where violators of the numerous rules were punished. Some prisoners were made to spend the nights in "standing-cells". These cells were about 1.5 m2 (16 sq ft), and four men would be placed in them; they could do nothing but stand, and were forced during the day to work with the other prisoners. In the basement were located the "starvation cells"; prisoners incarcerated here were given neither food nor water until they were dead.[10]

Block 11

In the basement were the "dark cells"; these cells had only a very tiny window, and a solid door. Prisoners placed in these cells would gradually suffocate as they used up all of the oxygen in the cell; sometimes the SS would light a candle in the cell to use up the oxygen more quickly. Many were subjected to hanging with their hands behind their backs, thus dislocating their shoulder joints for hours, even days.[11]

On September 3, 1941, deputy camp commandant SS-Hauptsturmführer Fritzsch experimented on 600 Russian POWs and 250 Polish inmates by cramming them into the basement of Block 11 and gassing them with Zyklon B, a highly lethal cyanide-based pesticide.[12] This paved the way for the use of Zyklon B as an instrument for extermination at Auschwitz, and a gas chamber and crematorium were constructed by converting a bunker. This gas chamber operated from 1941 to 1942, during which time some 60,000 people were killed therein; it was then converted into an air-raid shelter for the use of the SS. This gas chamber still exists, together with the associated crematorium, which was reconstructed after the war using the original components, which remained on-site.

Auschwitz II-Birkenau

Auschwitz II-Birkenau

Construction on Auschwitz II-Birkenau, the extermination camp, began in October 1941 to ease congestion at the main camp. It was larger than Auschwitz I, and more people passed through its gates than through Auschwitz I. It was designed to hold several categories of prisoners, and to function as an extermination camp in the context of Heinrich Himmler's preparations for the Final Solution of the Jewish Question, the extermination of the Jews.[13] The first gas chamber at Birkenau was "The Little Red House," a brick cottage converted into a gassing facility by tearing out the inside and bricking up the walls. It was operational by March 1942. A second brick cottage, "The Little White House," was similarly converted some weeks later.[14]

The Nazis had committed themselves to the final solution no later than January 1942, the date of the Wannsee Conference. In his Nuremberg testimony on April 15, 1946, Rudolf Höss, the commandant of Auschwitz, testified that Heinrich Himmler personally ordered him to prepare Auschwitz for that purpose:

In the summer of 1941 I was summoned to Berlin to Reichsfuehrer SS Himmler to receive personal orders. He told me something to the effect—I do not remember the exact words—that the Fuehrer had given the order for a final solution of the Jewish question. We, the SS, must carry out that order. If it is not carried out now then the Jews will later on destroy the German people. He had chosen Auschwitz on account of its easy access by rail and also because the extensive site offered space for measures ensuring isolation.[15]

Picture of Birkenau taken by an American surveillance plane, August 25, 1944

British historian Laurence Rees writes, that Höss may have misremembered the year Himmler said this. Himmler did indeed visit Höss in the summer of 1941, but there is no evidence that the final solution had been planned at this stage. Rees writes that the meeting predates the killings of Jewish men by the Einsatzgruppen in the East and the expansion of the killings in July 1941. It also predates the Wannsee Conference. Rees speculates that the conversation with Himmler was most likely in the summer of 1942.[16] The first gassings, using an industrial gas derived from prussic acid and known by the brand name Zyklon-B, were carried out at Auschwitz in September 1941.[17]

In early 1943, the Nazis decided to increase greatly the gassing capacity of Birkenau. Crematorium II, originally designed as a mortuary, with morgues in the basement and ground-level furnaces, was converted into a killing factory by placing a gas-tight door on the morgues and adding vents for Zyklon B and ventilation equipment to remove the gas. It went into operation in March. Crematorium III was built using the same design. Crematoria IV and V, designed from the start as gassing centers, were also constructed that spring. By June 1943 all four crematoria were operational. Most of the victims were killed during the period afterwards.[18]

The camp was staffed partly by prisoners, some of whom were selected to be kapos (orderlies, most of whom were convicts) and sonderkommandos (workers at the crematoria). The kapos were responsible for keeping order in the barrack huts; the sonderkommandos prepared new arrivals for gassing (ordering them to remove their clothing and surrender their personal possessions) and transferred corpses from the gas chambers to the furnaces, having first pulled out any gold that the victims might have had in their teeth. Members of these groups were killed periodically. The kapos and sonderkommandos were supervised by members of the SS; altogether 6,000 SS members worked at Auschwitz.

Command of the women's camp, which was separated from the men's area by the incoming railway line, was held in turn by Johanna Langefeld, Maria Mandel, and Elisabeth Volkenrath.

Auschwitz III

Buna-Werke, Monowitz and subcamps

The largest of the Auschwitz work camps was Auschwitz III-Monowitz, named after the Polish village of Monowice, and regarded from the fall of 1943 onwards as an industrial camp. Starting operations in May 1942, it was associated with the synthetic rubber and liquid fuel plant Buna-Werke owned by IG Farben. 11,000 slave laborers worked at Monowitz. Seven thousand inmates worked at various chemical plants. 8,000 worked in mines. Approximately 40,000 prisoners worked in slave labor camps at Auschwitz or nearby, under appalling conditions.[19] In regular intervals, doctors from Auschwitz II would visit the work camps and select the weak and sick for the gas chambers of Birkenau.


Prisoners building airplane parts at Siemens-Schuckert factory at Bobrek sub-camp

There were 45 smaller satellite camps, some of them tens of kilometers from the main camps, with prisoner populations ranging from several dozen to several thousand.[20] The largest were built at Trzebinia, Blechhammer and Althammer. Women's subcamps were constructed at Budy, Pławy, Zabrze, Gleiwitz I, II, III, Rajsko, and Lichtenwerden (now Světlá). The satellite camps were named Aussenlager (external camp), Nebenlager (extension or subcamp), and Arbeitslager (labor camp).[20] Danuta Czech of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum writes that most of the satellite camps were pressed into service on behalf of German industry. Inmates of 28 of them worked for the German armaments industry. Nine camps were set up near foundries and other metal works, six near coal mines, six supplied prisoners to work in chemical plants, and three to light industry. One was built next to a plant making construction materials and another near a food processing plant. Apart from the weapons and construction industries, prisoners were also made to work in forestry and farming.[21]

Selection process and genocide

Selection on the Jewish ramp at Auschwitz II-Birkenau, May/June 1944. To be sent to the right meant labor; to the left, the gas chambers.[22]

By July 1942, the SS were conducting the infamous "selections," in which incoming Jews were divided into those deemed able to work, who were sent to the right and admitted into the camp, and those who were sent to the left and immediately gassed.[23] Prisoners were transported from all over German-occupied Europe by rail, arriving in daily convoys. The group selected to die, 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. Auschwitz II-Birkenau claimed more victims than any other German extermination camp, despite coming into use after all the others.

A Reichsbahn "goods wagon", one of the types used for deportations

SS officers told the victims they were to take a shower and undergo delousing. The victims would undress in an outer chamber and walk into the gas chamber, which was disguised as a shower facility, complete with dummy shower heads. After the doors were shut, SS men would dump in the cyanide pellets via holes in the roof or windows on the side. In Auschwitz II-Birkenau, more than 20,000 people could be gassed and cremated each day. The Nazis used a cyanide gas produced from Zyklon B pellets, manufactured by two companies who had acquired licensing rights to the patent held by IG Farben.

Hungarian Jews on selection ramp, May, 1944

Sonderkommandos removed gold teeth from the corpses of gas chamber victims; the gold was melted down and sent back to the Third Reich. The belongings of the arrivals were seized by the SS and sorted in an area of the camp called "Canada," so-called because Canada was seen as a land of plenty. Many of the SS at the camp enriched themselves by pilfering the confiscated property.[24]

The gas chambers worked to their fullest capacity from April-July 1944, during the massacre of Hungary's Jews. Hungary was an ally of Germany during the war, but it had resisted turning over its Jews to the Germans until Germany invaded in March 1944. From April until July 9, 1944, 475,000 Hungarian Jews, half of the pre-war population, were deported to Auschwitz, at a rate of 12,000 a day for a considerable part of that period.[25] The incoming volume was so great that the SS resorted to burning corpses in open-air pits as well as in the crematoria.[26]

Life in the camps

The prisoners' day began at 4:30 a.m. with "reveille" or roll call, with 30 minutes allowed for morning ablutions. After roll call, the Kommando, or work details, would walk to their place of work, five abreast, wearing striped camp fatigues, no underwear, and wooden shoes without socks, most of the time ill-fitting, which caused great pain. An orchestra often played as the workers marched through the gates. Kapos—prisoners who had been promoted to foremen—were responsible for the prisoners' behavior while they worked, as was an SS escort. The working day lasted 12 hours during the summer, and a little less in the winter. No rest periods were allowed. One prisoner would be assigned to the latrines to measure the time the workers took to empty their bladders and bowels.[27]

After work, there was a mandatory evening roll call. If a prisoner was missing, the others had to remain standing in place until he was either found or the reason for his absence discovered, even if it took hours, regardless of the weather conditions. After roll call, there were individual and collective punishments, depending on what had happened during the day, and after these, the prisoners were allowed to retire to their blocks for the night to receive their bread rations and water. Curfew was two or three hours later, the prisoners sleeping in long rows of wooden bunks, lying in and on their clothes and shoes to prevent them from being stolen.[28]

Medical experiments

Block 10, the medical experimentation block

German doctors performed a wide variety of experiments on prisoners at Auschwitz. SS doctors tested the efficacy of X-rays as a sterilization device by administering large doses to female prisoners. Prof. Dr. Carl Clauberg injected chemicals into women's uteruses in an effort to glue them shut. Bayer, then a subsidiary of IG Farben, bought prisoners to use as guinea pigs for testing new drugs.[29]

The most infamous doctor at Auschwitz was Josef Mengele, known as the "Angel of Death". Particularly interested in research on identical twins, Mengele performed cruel experiments on them, such as inducing diseases in one twin and killing the other when the first died to perform comparative autopsies. He also took a special interest in dwarves and deliberately infected twins, dwarves and other prisoners with gangrene to "study" the effects.[30]

Jewish skeleton collection

August Hirt dissecting a corpse

The Jewish skeleton collection was obtained from among a pool of 115 inmates at Auschwitz, chosen for their racial characteristics. Rudolf Brandt and Wolfram Sievers, general manager of the Ahnenerbe, were responsible for collecting the skeletons for the collection of the Anatomy Institute at the Reich University of Strasbourg in the Alsace region of Occupied France. Due to a typhus epidemic, the candidates chosen for the skeleton collection were quarantined; from a letter written by Sievers in June 1943;

"Altogether 115 persons were worked on, 79 were Jews, 30 were Jewesses, 2 were Poles, and 4 were Asiatics. At the present time these prisoners are segregated by sex and are under quarantine in the two hospital buildings of Auschwitz."

The collection was sanctioned by Heinrich Himmler and under the direction of August Hirt.

Ultimately 86 of the inmates were shipped to Natzweiler-Struthof. The deaths of these 86 inmates was, in the words of Hirt, "induced" at a jury rigged gassing facility, at Natzweiler-Struthof on July 30, 1943 and their corpses; 57 men and 29 women were sent to Strasbourg. Josef Kramer who would become the last commandant of Bergen Belsen personally carried out the gassing. In 1944 with the approach of the allies, there was concern over the possibility of the corpses being discovered. In September, 1944 Sievers telegrammed Brandt;

"The collection can be defleshed and rendered unrecognizable. This, however, would mean that the whole work had been done for nothing-at least in part-and that this singular collection would be lost to science, since it would be impossible to make plaster casts afterwards".

Brandt and Sievers would be indicted, tried and convicted in the Doctor's Trial in Nuremberg. Hirt committed suicide in Schonenbach, Austria, on June 2, 1945 with a gunshot to the head. [31][32]

Escapes, resistance, and the Allies' knowledge of the camps

Auschwitz camp photos of Witold Pilecki, 1941

Information regarding Auschwitz was available to the Allies during the years 1940–1943 by accurate and frequent reports of Polish Army Captain Witold Pilecki. Pilecki was the only known person to volunteer to be imprisoned at Auschwitz concentration camp, spending 945 days at Auschwitz not only actively gathering evidence of genocide and supplying it to the British in London by Polish resistance movement organization Home Army but also organizing resistance structures at the camp known as ZOW, Związek Organizacji Wojskowej.[33] His first report was smuggled outside in November 1940. He eventually escaped on April 27, 1943, but his personal report of mass killings was dismissed as exaggeration by the Allies, as were his previous ones.[34]

Vrba during the war

The attitude of the Allies changed with receipt of the very detailed Vrba-Wetzler report, compiled by two Jewish prisoners, Rudolf Vrba and Alfred Wetzler, who escaped on April 7, 1944, and which finally convinced Allied leaders of the truth about Auschwitz. Details from the Vrba-Wetzler report were broadcast on June 15, 1944 by the BBC, and on June 20 by The New York Times, causing the Allies to put pressure on the Hungarian government to stop the mass deportation of Jews to the camp.[35]

Starting with a plea from the Slovakian rabbi Weissmandl in May 1944, there was a growing campaign to persuade the Allies to bomb Auschwitz or the railway lines leading to it. At one point Winston Churchill ordered that such a plan be prepared, but he was told that bombing the camp would most likely kill prisoners without disrupting the killing operation, and that bombing the railway lines was not technically feasible. The debate over what could have been done, or what should have been attempted even if success was unlikely, has continued ever since.

Birkenau revolt

Ruins of Crematorium IV, blown up in the revolt

By 1943, resistance organizations had developed in the camp. These organizations helped a few prisoners escape; these escapees took with them news of exterminations, such as the killing of hundreds of thousands of Jews transported from Hungary between May and July 1944. On October 7, 1944, the Jewish Sonderkommandos (those inmates kept separate from the main camp and put to work in the gas chambers and crematoria) of Birkenau Kommando III staged an uprising. They attacked the SS with makeshift weapons: stones, axes, hammers, other work tools and homemade grenades. They caught the SS guards by surprise, overpowered them and blew up the Crematorium IV, using explosives smuggled in from a weapons factory by female inmates. At this stage they were joined by the Birkenau Kommando I of the Crematorium II, which also overpowered their guards and broke out of the compound. Hundreds of prisoners escaped, but were all soon captured and, along with an additional group who participated in the revolt, executed.[36]

There were also plans for a general uprising in Auschwitz, coordinated with an Allied air raid and a Polish resistance (Armia Krajowa, Home Army) attack from the outside.[34] That plan was authored by Polish resistance fighter, Witold Pilecki, who organized in Auschwitz an underground Union of Military Organization - (Związek Organizacji Wojskowej, ZOW). Pilecki and ZOW hoped that the Allies would drop arms or troops into the camp (most likely the Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade, based in Britain), and that the Home Army would organize an assault on the camp from outside. By 1943, however, he realized that the Allies had no such plans. Meanwhile, the Gestapo redoubled its efforts to ferret out ZOW members, succeeding in killing many of them. Pilecki decided to break out of the camp, with the hope of personally convincing Home Army leaders that a rescue attempt was a valid option. He escaped on the night of April 26–April 27, 1943, but his plan was not accepted by the Home Army as the Allies considered his reports about the Holocaust exaggerated.[34]

Individual escape attempts

About 700 prisoners attempted to escape from the Auschwitz camps during the years of their operation, of which about 300 were successful.[citation needed] A common punishment for escape attempts was death by starvation; the families of successful escapees were sometimes arrested and interned in Auschwitz and prominently displayed to deter others. If someone did manage to escape, the SS would pick 10 random people from the prisoner's block and starve them to death.[37]

Since the concentration camps were designed to degrade prisoners beneath human dignity, maintaining the will to survive was seen in itself as an act of rebellion. Primo Levi was taught this lesson by his fellow prisoner and friend Steinlauf:

[that] "precisely because the camp was a great machine to reduce us to beasts, we must not become beasts; that even in this place one can survive, and therefore one must want to survive, to tell the story, to bear witness; and that, if we want to survive, then it's important that we strive to preserve at least the skeleton, the scaffolding, the external shape of civilization."[38]

In 1943, the "Kampfgruppe Auschwitz" was organised with the aim to send out as much information about what was happening in Auschwitz as possible. They buried notes in the ground in the hope a liberator would find them and smuggled out photos of the crematoria and gas chambers.[39]

June 24, 1944, Mala Zimetbaum escaped with her Polish boyfriend, Edek Galinski. They also wanted to smuggle out deportation lists Zimetbaum had been able to copy due to her translator job in the office of the "Lagerleitung". They both were arrested on July 6 near the Slovakian frontier and sentenced to be executed on September 15, 1944 in Biekenau; Galinski managed to kill himself before being executed, while Zimetbaum, having failed to commit suicide, died finally after being tortured by the SS.[40]

Evacuation, death marches, and liberation

Death march

The last selection took place on October 30, 1944. The next month, Heinrich Himmler ordered the crematoria destroyed before the Red Army reached the camp. The gas chambers of Birkenau were blown up by the SS in January 1945 in an attempt to hide the German crimes from the advancing Soviet troops. The SS command sent orders on January 17, 1945 calling for the execution of all prisoners remaining in the camp, but in the chaos of the Nazi retreat the order was never carried out. On January 17, 1945, Nazi personnel started to evacuate the facility. Nearly 60,000 prisoners were forced on a death march toward a camp in Wodzisław Śląski (German: Loslau). Those too weak or sick to walk were left behind. These remaining 7,500 prisoners were liberated by the 322nd Rifle Division of the Red Army on January 27, 1945. Approximately 20,000 Auschwitz prisoners made it to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany, where they were liberated by the British in April 1945.[41] Among the artifacts of automated murder found by the Russians were 348,820 men's suits and 836,255 women's garments.[19]

Death toll

Children and an old woman on the way to the death barracks of Auschwitz-Birkenau

The exact number of victims at Auschwitz is impossible to fix with certainty. Since the Nazis destroyed a number of records, immediate efforts to count the dead depended on the testimony of witnesses and the defendants on trial at Nuremberg. While under interrogation Rudolf Höss, commandant of Auschwitz concentration camp from 1940 to 1943, said that Adolf Eichmann told him that two and a half million Jews had been killed in gas chambers and about half a million had died "naturally". Later he wrote "I regard two and a half million far too high. Even Auschwitz had limits to its destructive possibilities".[42] Communist Polish and Soviet authorities maintained a figure "between 2.5 and 4 million".[43] The figure "4,000,000" was used on the original Auschwitz memorial plaques. The plaques did not specify the ethnicities of victims.

Burning corpses

In 1983, French scholar George Wellers was one of the first to use German data on deportations to estimate the number killed at Auschwitz, arriving at 1.613 million dead, including 1.44 million Jews and 146,000 Catholic Poles.[44] A larger study started later by Franciszek Piper used timetables of train arrivals combined with deportation records to calculate 960,000 Jewish deaths and 140,000-150,000 ethnic Polish victims, along with 23,000 Roma and Sinti (Gypsies),[45] a figure that has met with significant agreement from other scholars.[46]

According to Harmon and Drobnicki,[43] estimates range from 800,000 to five million people. More recent and better researched estimates are on the lower end.

For many years, a memorial plaque placed at the camp by the Soviet authorities stated that 4 million people had been murdered at Auschwitz. The government of the People's Republic of Poland also supported this figure. In the west, this figure was accepted, but some historians had their doubts.[43] After the collapse of the Communist government in 1989, the plaque was removed and the official death toll given as 1.1 million. Holocaust deniers have attempted to use this change as propaganda, in the words of the Nizkor Project:

Deniers often use the 'Four Million Variant' as a stepping stone to leap from an apparent contradiction to the idea that the Holocaust was a hoax, again perpetrated by a conspiracy. They hope to discredit historians by making them seem inconsistent. If they can't keep their numbers straight, their reasoning goes, how can we say that their evidence for the Holocaust is credible? One must wonder which historians they speak of, as most have been remarkably consistent in their estimates of a million or so dead. In short, all of the denier's blustering about the 'Four Million Variant' is a specious attempt to envelope the reader into their web of deceit, and it can be discarded after the most rudimentary examination of published histories.[71]

Timeline of events in Auschwitz

After the war

After the war parts of Auschwitz 1 and/or its guards' quarters served first as a hospital for sick liberated prisoners.[89] After that until 1947 parts were used as an NKVD and MBP prison camp. The Buna Werke were taken over by the Polish government and became the foundation for the region's chemical industry.

Today, at Birkenau the entrance building and some of the southern brick-built barracks survive; but of the almost 300 wooden barracks, only 19 remain: 18 near the entrance building and one, on its own, further away. All that survives of the others are chimneys, remnants of a largely ineffective means of heating. Many of these wooden buildings were constructed from prefabricated sections made by a company that intended them to be used as stables; inside, numerous metal rings for the tethering of horses can still be seen.

Creation of the museum

Ruins at Birkenau, with brick chimneys belonging to wooden barracks being prominent

After the war Auschwitz 1 and/or its guards' quarters served until 1947 as an NKVD and MBP prison camp. The Buna Werke were taken over by the Polish government and became the foundation for the region's chemical industry. Today, the entrance buildings of Auschwitz I and II and some of the southern brick-built barracks survive, but of the almost 300 wooden barracks, only 19 remain: 18 near the entrance building and one, on its own, further away. All that survives of the others are chimneys, remnants of a largely ineffective means of heating. Many of these wooden buildings were constructed from prefabricated sections made by a company that intended them to be used as stables; inside, numerous metal rings for the tethering of horses can still be seen.

Entrance to Birkenau, 2006. A guard tower and two information boards for visitors can be seen on the left.

The Polish government decided to restore Auschwitz I and turn it into a museum honouring the victims of Nazism; Auschwitz II, where buildings (many of which were prefabricated wood structures) were prone to decay, was preserved but not restored. Today, the Auschwitz I museum site combines elements from several periods into a single complex: for example the gas chamber at Auschwitz I (which had been converted into an air-raid shelter for the SS) was restored and the fence was moved (because of building work being done after the war but before the museum was established). However, in most cases the departure from the historical truth is minor, and is clearly labelled. The museum contains many men's, women's and children's shoes taken from their victims; also suitcases, which the deportees were encouraged to bring with them, and many household utensils. One display case, some 30 metres (98 ft) long, is wholly filled with human hair which the Nazis gathered from people before and after they were killed.

Gallows in Auschwitz I where Rudolf Höss was executed on April 16, 1947

Auschwitz II and the remains of the gas chambers there are open to the public. The camp is on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The ashes of the victims were scattered between the huts, and the entire area is regarded as a grave site. Most of the buildings of Auschwitz I are still standing. The public entrance area is outside the perimeter fence in what was the camp admission building, where new prisoners were registered and given their uniforms. At the far end of Birkenau are memorial plaques in many languages, including Romani.

The museum has allowed scenes for three films to be filmed on the site: Pasażerka (1963) by Polish director Andrzej Munk, Landscape After the Battle (1970) by Polish director Andrzej Wajda, and a television miniseries War and Remembrance (1978). Permission was denied to Steven Spielberg to film scenes for Schindler's List (1993). A "mirror" camp was constructed outside the infamous archway for the scene where the train arrives carrying the women who were saved by Oskar Schindler.

"Arbeit macht frei" sign theft

Arbeit macht frei sign, Auschwitz I

The 5-metre (16 ft), 41-kilogram (90 lb) wrought-iron "Arbeit macht frei" sign over the entrance to Auschwitz I was stolen in the early morning of December 18, 2009. The thieves unscrewed the sign at one end and broke it off its mountings at the other end, then carried the sign 300 metres to a hole in the concrete wall, where they cut four metal bars blocking the opening. After the theft, authorities replaced the stolen sign with a replica, which was originally made to replace the original sign while it was being restored some years earlier. [90] Such was the concern about its theft that Poland declared a state of emergency.[91] Police found the sign, cut into three parts, in northern Poland two days later in the home of one of five men who were arrested. An unnamed overseas buyer is believed to have been involved.[92] Polish police said that the five were common thieves, not neo-Nazis.[93][94] The original sign will be welded back together and put back up after an improved security system is put in place.[95] [96]

The sign was made by Polish workers on Nazi orders after the Auschwitz barracks were converted into a labor camp to house captured Polish resistance fighters in 1940.[97]

The Aftonbladet newspaper reported that the sign had been stolen by Polish thieves paid by and working on behalf of a Swedish right-wing extremist group hoping to use proceeds from the proposed sale of the sign to a collector of Nazi memorabilia, to finance a series of terror attacks aimed at influencing voters in upcoming Swedish parliamentary elections.[98][99] The theft was organised by the Swedish former nazi Anders Högström.[100]

See also

Picture gallery


  1. ^ Krakowski 1994, p. 50.
  2. ^ Gutman 1992, p. 6.
  3. ^ Piper 1994, pp. 68-70.
  4. ^ Swiebocka, Teresa. Report from Workshop 1 on Remembrance and Representation: Presentation by Teresa Swiebocka, Stockholm International Forum on the Holocaust, 2000, accessed December 22, 2009.
  5. ^ Piper 1994, p. 62.
  6. ^ Primo Levi quoted in Gutman 1994, p. 5.
  7. ^ Rees 2009, BBC.
  8. ^ a b Gutman 1994, pp. 10, 16.
  9. ^ Wittmann 2003.
  10. ^ Maximilian Kolbe
  11. ^ Rees 2005, p. 26.
  12. ^ :: Muzeum Auschwitz-Birkenau w Oświęcimiu EN::
  13. ^ Gutman 1994, p. 16.
  14. ^ Rees 2005, pp. 96-97, 101.
  15. ^ Testimony of Rudolf Hoess, Commandant of Auschwitz, University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law; Hoess, Rudolf (1900-1947), camp commandant of Auschwitz, Yad Vashem, accessed December 22, 2009.
  16. ^ Gustave Gilbert witness statement cited in Dwork and Van Pelt 2002, p. 278, cited in Rees 2005, p. 53.
  17. ^ September 3: First experimental gassings at Auschwitz, Yad Vashem.
  18. ^ Rees 2005, pp. 168-169.
  19. ^ a b Dwork and van Pelt, 1997, p. 10.
  20. ^ a b Gutman 1994, p. 17.
  21. ^ Danuta Czech in Gutman 1994, p. 18.
  22. ^ This image shows the arrival of Hungarian Jews from Carpatho-Ruthenia, many of them from the Berehov ghetto. The main entrance is visible in the background The Auschwitz Album, Yad Vashem.
  23. ^ Rees 2005, p. 100.
  24. ^ Rees 2005, pp. 172-175.
  25. ^ Kárný 1994, p. 556.
  26. ^ Dwork and van Pelt 1997, pp. 337-343.
  27. ^ Gutman 1994, pp. 20-21.
  28. ^ Gutman 1994, p. 21.
  29. ^ Rees 2005, pp. 178-179.
  30. ^ Rees 2005, pp. 180-182.
  31. ^ Doctors from Hell: the Horrific Account of Nazi Experiments on Humans. By Vivien Spitz Publisher: Sentient Publications (May 25, 2005) Language: English ISBN 1-59181-032-9 ISBN 978-1-59181-032-2 Pages 232-234
  32. ^ Substantive and Procedural Aspects of International Criminal Law : The Experience of International and National Courts: Materials by Gabrielle Kirk McDonald Publisher: Springer; 1 edition (March 1, 2000) Language: English ISBN 90-411-1134-4 ISBN 978 9041111340
  33. ^ Garlinski 1975;
  34. ^ a b c Adam Cyra, Ochotnik do Auschwitz - Witold Pilecki 1901-1948, Oświęcim 2000. ISBN 83-912000-3-5
  35. ^ Karny 1994, p. 556.
  36. ^ Rees 2005, pp. 256-257.
  37. ^ Rees 2005, pp. 141.
  38. ^ Levi 1947.
  39. ^ Daring to Resist: Jewish Defiance in the Holocaust Publisher: Museum of Jewish Heritage - A Living Memorial to the Holocaust (April 1, 2007) Language: English ISBN 0-9716859-2-4 ISBN 978-0-9716859-2-5
  40. ^ The Holocaust: a history of the Jews of Europe during the Second World War By Martin Gilbert Pages 683-697; Publisher: Holt Paperbacks (May 15, 1987) Language: English ISBN 0-8050-0348-7 ISBN 978-0-8050-0348-2
  41. ^ Rees 2005, pp. 260-265.
  42. ^ Commandant of Auschwitz: Rudolf Höß. Appendix one, pp. 193-194. ISBN 1-84212-024-7
  43. ^ a b c Brian Harmon, John Drobnicki, Historical sources and the Auschwitz death toll estimates, The Nizkor Project
  44. ^ Wellers, Georges. Essai de determination du nombre de morts au camp d'Auschwitz (attempt to determine the number of dead at the Auschwitz camp), Le Monde Juif, Oct-Dec 1983, pp. 127-159.
  45. ^ a b Piper 1994, pp. 68-72.
  46. ^ Cesarani and Kavanaugh 2004, p. 357.
  47. ^ Reitlinger, Gerald. The Final Solution: The Attempt to Exterminate the Jews of Europe, 1939-1945. South Brunswick: T. Yoseloff, 1968, p. 500.
  48. ^ Hilberg 1961, p. 572.
  49. ^ Dawidowicz 1979, p. 191.
  50. ^ Sofsky, Wolfgang. The Order of Terror: The Concentration Camp. Trans. William Templer. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997, p. 43 in Galleys.
  51. ^ Sweibocka, Teresa. Auschwitz: A History in Photographs. Bloomington and Warsaw: Indiana University Press and Ksiazka I Wiedza, 1993, pp. 287-288.
  52. ^ Höss, Rudolf. Death Dealer: The Memoirs of the SS Kommandant of Auschwitz. ed. by Steven J. Palusky, trans. by Andrew Pollinger. Buffalo: Prometheus Books, 1992, p. 391.
  53. ^ Weiss, A. "Categories of Camps, Their character and Role in the Execution of the Final Solution of the Jewish Question," in The Nazi Concentration Camps, Jerusalem: Yad Veshem, 1984, pp. 132.
  54. ^ Bauer, Yehuda. A History of the Holocaust. New York: F. Watts. 1982. p. 215.
  55. ^ Bauer, Yehuda. "Danger of Distortion, Poles and Jews alike are supplying those who deny the Holocaust with the best possible arguments," Jerusalem Post, September 30, 1989.
  56. ^ Wellers, Georges. "Essai de determination du nombre de morts au camp d'Auschwitz" Le Monde Juif, October-December 1983, pp. 127-159.
  57. ^ Billig, Joseph. Les camps de concentration dans l'economie du Reich hitlerien. Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 1973. pp. 101-102.
  58. ^ Polaikov, Leon. Harvest of Hate Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1956, p. 202.
  59. ^ "Auschwitz." The World Book Encyclopedia. Chicago: World Book, 1980.
  60. ^ Kamenetksy, Ihor. Secret Nazi Plans for Eastern Europe. New Haven: College and University Press, 1961, p. 174.
  61. ^ Dunin-Wasowicz, Krzysztof. Resistance in the Nazi concentration camps, 1933-1945. Warsaw: PWN-Polish Scientific Publishers, 1982, p. 44.
  62. ^ "Brestrafung der Verbrecher von Auschwitz," in Auschwitz: Geschichte und Wirklichkeit des Vernichtungslagers. Reinbek bei Hamburg: Rowolt, 1980, p. 211.
  63. ^ Czech, D. "Konzentrationslager Auschwitz: Abriss der Geschichte," in Auschwitz: Geschichte und Wirklichkeit des Konzentrationslagers. Reinbek bei Hamburg: Rowolt, 1980, p. 42.
  64. ^ Obozy hitlerowskie na ziemiach polskich 1939-1945: informator encyklopedyczny. Warsaw: Panst. Wydaw. Naukowe DSP, 1979, p. 369.
  65. ^ Madajczyk, Czeslaw. Polityka III Rzeszy w okupowanej Polsce; okupacja Polski, 1939-1945. Warsaw: Panstwowe Wydawn Naukowe, 1970, pp. 293-94.
  66. ^ Gilbert, Martin. Atlas of the Holocaust. New York: Pergamon Press, 1988.
  67. ^ Lane, Arthur Bliss. Saw Poland Betrayed: An American Ambassador Reports to the American People. Indianapolis: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1948, p. 39
  68. ^ Bauer, Yehuda. "Foreword," in Müller, Filip. Eyewitness Auschwitz. New York: Stein and Day, 1979, p. xi.
  69. ^ Kogon, Eugen. Der SS Staat. Berlin, 1974, p. 157.
  70. ^ Friedman, Filip. This Was Oswiecim: The Story of a Murder Camp. Translated from the Yiddish original by Joseph Leftwich. London: The United Jewish Relief Appeal, 1946, p. 14.
  71. ^ Nizkor, The Auschwitz Gambit: The Four Million Variant
  72. ^ Auschwitz by Debórah Dwork , Robert Jan van Pelt. page 166 Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (April 17, 2002) Language: English ISBN-10: 0393322912 ISBN-13: 978-0393322910
  73. ^ Beyond Justice: The Auschwitz Trial by Rebecca Wittmann Publisher: Harvard University Press (May 30, 2005) Language: English ISBN 0-674-01694-7 ISBN 978-0-674-01694-1
  74. ^ Auschwitz, 1940-1945: Mass murder By Wacław Długoborski, Franciszek Piper
  75. ^ Last Traces: The Lost Art of Auschwitz by Joseph Czarnecki Publisher: Macmillan Pub Co Language: English ISBN-10: 0689120222 ISBN-13: 978-0689120220
  76. ^ Auschwitz chronicle 1939-1945 By Danuta Czech Publisher: I B Tauris & Co Ltd (November 1990) ISBN 1-85043-291-0 ISBN 978-1-85043-291-3
  77. ^ a b Pressac, Jean-Claude and Van Pelt, Robert-Jan "The Machinery of Mass Murder at Auschwitz" in Gutman, Yisrael & Berenbaum, Michael. Anatomy of the Auschwitz Death Camp, Indiana University Press, 1994; this edition 1998, p. 232.
  78. ^ a b Pressac, Jean-Claude and Van Pelt, Robert-Jan "The Machinery of Mass Murder at Auschwitz" in Gutman, Yisrael & Berenbaum, Michael. Anatomy of the Auschwitz Death Camp, Indiana University Press, 1994; this edition 1998, p. 234.
  79. ^ Morris, Errol. "Mr. Death: Transcript". Retrieved May 15, 2008. 
  80. ^ The Twentieth Train: The True Story of the Ambush of the Death Train to Auschwitz by Marion Schreiber Publisher: Grove Press (February 5, 2004) Language: English ISBN 0-8021-1766-X ISBN 978-0-8021-1766-3
  81. ^ Children of the Flames; Dr. Josef Mengele and the Untold Story of the Twins of Auschwitz by Lucette Matalon and Sheila Cohen Dekel Publisher: Penguin (Non-Classics) (May 1, 1992) Language: English ISBN 0-14-016931-8 ISBN978-0140169317
  82. ^ Pressac, Jean-Claude and Van Pelt, Robert-Jan "The Machinery of Mass Murder at Auschwitz" in Gutman, Yisrael & Berenbaum, Michael. Anatomy of the Auschwitz Death Camp, Indiana University Press, 1994; this edition 1998, p. 236.
  83. ^ From the history of KL-Auschwitz, Volume 1‎ - Page 73 Kazimierz Smoleń - History - 1967
  84. ^ Testimony from the Nazi camps: French women's voices By Margaret-Anne Hutton pages 34-36Publisher: Routledge; 1 edition (December 29, 2004) Language: English ISBN- 0415349338 ISBN 978-0-415-34933-8
  85. ^ Rena's Promise By Rena Kornreich Gelissen, Heather Dune Macadam pages 230-34Publisher: Beacon Press (October 30, 1996) Language: English ISBN 0-8070-7071-8 ISBN 978-0-8070-7071-0
  86. ^ Müller, Melissa. Anne Frank: The Biography Macmillan, 1998. ISBN 0-8050-5996-2 pp. 119–120
  87. ^ Karny, Miroslav. "The Vrba and Wetzler Report" in Gutman, Yisrael & Berenbaum, Michael. Anatomy of the Auschwitz Death Camp, Indiana University Press, 1994; this edition 1998, pp. 563–564.
  88. ^ The Murders at Bullenhuser Damm: The Ss Doctor and the Children Gunther SchwarbergPublisher: Indiana Univ Pr; First Edition edition (April 1984) Language: English ISBN 0-253-15481-2 ISBN 978-0-253-15481-1
  89. ^
  90. ^ "Auschwitz death camp sign stolen". BBC News. December 18, 2009. Retrieved December 18, 2009. 
  91. ^ Connolly, Kate. Poland declares state of emergency after 'Arbeit Macht Frei' stolen from Auschwitz, The Guardian, December 18, 2009.
  92. ^ Poland: Foreigner Is Suspected in Theft of Auschwitz Sign, Associated Press, December 22, 2009.
  93. ^
  94. ^ Police in Poland find sign stolen from Auschwitz gate, BBC News, December 21, 2009.
  95. ^
  96. ^ Gera, Vanessa (December 21, 2009). "Damaged Auschwitz sign to go back up at main gate". The Associated Press. The Salt Lake Tribune. Retrieved December 23, 2009. 
  97. ^
  98. ^
  99. ^
  100. ^


  • Cesarani, David and Kavanaugh, Sarah (2004). Holocaust: Critical Concepts in Historical Studies. Routledge. ISBN 0-415-27512-1, 9780415275125
  • Czech, Danuta (ed.) (1989). Kalendarium der Ereignisse im Konzentrationslager Auschwitz-Birkenau 1939–1945, Reinbek bei Hamburg.
  • Dawidowicz, Lucy (1979). The War Against the Jews. New York: Bantam Books.
  • Dwork, Deborah and Robert Jan van Pelt. Auschwitz: 1270 to the Present. 1997, Norton Paperback edition, ISBN 0-393-31684-X
  • Garlinski, Josef (1975). Fighting Auschwitz: the Resistance Movement in the Concentration Camp. Fawcett. ISBN 0-449-22599-2
  • Gutman, Yisrael and Berenbaum, Michael (eds.) (1998). Anatomy of the Auschwitz Death Camp. Indiana University Press; first published 1994.
  • Hilberg, Raul (1961). The Destruction of the European Jews. Chicago: Quadrangle Books.
  • Levi, Primo (1947). If This Is a Man. First published in Italy in 1947, first translated into English 1958.
  • Kárný, Miroslav (1994). "The Vrba and Wetzler report," in Gutman and Berenbaum, 1998.
  • Krakowski, Shmuel (1994). "The Satellite Camps" in Gutman and Berenbaum, 1998.
  • Piper, Franciszek (1994). "The Number of Victims" in Gutman and Berenbaum, 1998.
  • Rees, Laurence (2005). Auschwitz: A New History. Public Affairs, 2005. ISBN 1-58648-303-X
  • Rees, Laurence (2009). Rudolf Höss - Commandant of Auschwitz, BBC, November 5, 2009.
  • Wittmann, Rebecca Elizabeth. "Indicting Auschwitz? The Paradox of the Frankfurt Auschwitz Trial," German History, volume 21, issue 4, Oxford University Press, October 2003, doi 10.1191/0266355403gh294oa

External links

Further reading

Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikitravel

Main gate of Auschwitz I concentration camp
Main gate of Auschwitz I concentration camp

Auschwitz is the generic name given to the cluster of concentration, labour and extermination camps built by the Germans during the Second World War and located outside the town of Oswiecim (Polish Oświęcim) in southern Poland, some 60 km from Krakow. The camps have become a place of pilgrimage for survivors, their families and all who wish to travel to remember the Holocaust.


Although not the only (or, indeed, the first) Nazi concentration and extermination camp, Auschwitz has become a widespread symbol of terror, genocide and the Holocaust in the global consciousness.

A concentration camp was established by the Nazis in the suburbs of the Polish city of Oswiecim which - like the rest of Poland - was occupied by the Germans from the beginning of the Second World War (1939-1945). The name of the city of Oswiecim was changed ('Germanized') to Auschwitz, which became the name of the camp as well.

The camp was continually expanded over the next 5 years and ultimately consisted of 3 main parts: Auschwitz I, Auschwitz II-Birkenau, and Auschwitz III-Monowitz. Auschwitz also had over 40 sub-camps in the neighboring cities and in the surrounding area. Initially, only Poles and Jews were imprisoned and died in the camp. Subsequently, Soviet prisoners of war ('POWs'), gypsies, and prisoners of other nationalities and minorities were also incarcerated there.

From 1942 onwards the camp became the site of one of the greatest mass murders in the history of humanity, committed against the European Jews as part of Hitler's plan for the complete destruction of that people ('the Final Solution'). The vast majority of the Jewish men, women and children deported from their homes all over occupied Europe to Auschwitz were sent immediately to their deaths in the Birkenau gas chambers upon arrival, usually trained in in overcrowded cattle wagons. Their bodies were afterwards cremated in industrial furnaces in the crematoria.

At the end of the war, in an effort to remove the traces of the crimes they had committed, the SS began dismantling and razing the gas chambers, crematoria, and other buildings, as well as burning documents. Prisoners capable of marching were evacuated into the depths of the German Reich. Those who remained behind in the camp were liberated by Red Army soldiers on 27 January 1945.

A 2 July 1947 Act of the post-war Polish Parliament established the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum on the grounds of the two extant parts of the camp, Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau.

The site was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1979.

Get in

There are quite frequent and inexpensive buses (10zl each way) or minibuses (8zl each way - depart from the basement level of the main bus station) to and from the main bus station in Krakow, or guided tours are available from most hotels or tourist information centres. The bus takes about one and a half hours - it is usually busy and stops locally along the way. Also, trains regularly run to Oswiecim, you can purchase a return ticket for approx 45zl or one way for approx 23zl. A bus can then be caught to Auschwitz, or you can walk there (approx 1 km) in about 20-25 minutes. There is a shuttle bus between Auschwitz and Birkenau. It is free and goes every half hour (from Auschwitz to Birkenau it leaves on the hour at half hourly intervals and going the opposite way it is 15 minutes of the hour at half hourly intervals), or you can just walk the two miles between the camps (although it isn't a very nice walk as it is along the roads). If you've just missed a bus, a taxi between the sites will cost about 15 zl.

Local (Krakow - 1hr30m) and international (e.g. Vienna, Prague) trains also stop at the nearby town of Oświęcim (3km).

Entrance is free, without a ticket, though donations are encouraged. As of April 2009, Tours cost ~48zl & are discounted for students at 34zl. Be aware you will require a 10zl or 5-Euro deposit for the rental of headsets if you take a tour. The museum is open until 4pm in the winter, the 12:30 tour will get you back for the 4pm bus back to Krakow (goes from behind Auschwitz I, not the main road).

Tours from Krakow

Several companies provide tours from Krakow for around 100 zl. This will involve a minibus pick-up from anywhere in Krakow, and being given a guided tour from about 11 a.m. tp 2.30 p.m.

Get around

The Auschwitz Memorial and Museum is navigated on foot.

Tours are provided by the museum for a fee in various languages, and are recommended if you want a deeper understanding of the site, but you can get a pretty good feel by buying a guidebook and map (small, simple guide = 4zl; more detailed "souvenir" guide = 12zl - covering Auschwitz and Birkenau) and wandering round yourself. Each exhibit is described in Polish with other language translations but you can gain a much better understanding if you join a tour with a guide. The scope of the evil and terror that occurred here is almost unimaginable and a guide will help to put in context what a room full of human hair or what a thousand pairs of infant shoes means.

  • Auschwitz I was the first camp to be used (therefore called Stammlager). It consist of old Polish military barracks. Inside some of them you will find information material, boards, photos and personal belongings to illustrate the life and cruelties of this camp. The only remaining gas chamber is here but note that, as indicated in the chamber, it was reconstructed to its wartime layout after the war.
  • Main Building The entrance to Auschwitz I has a museum with a theater where a 17 minute film is shown, shot by Ukrainian troops the day after the camp was liberated. It's too graphic for children, and costs 3.5 zl. Showings at 11, 11:30, 12:00, 1:00, 1:30, 3, & 5. Bookstores and bathrooms are here, consider buying a 3 zl guidebook or 5 zl map.
  • Auschwitz-Birkenau was the second camp and is around 3km from Auschwitz I. You can still see the entrance gate, the railway track and ramp and many old barracks. The site is huge. You can also see the buildings where incoming prisoners were shaved and given their "new" clothing, the ruins of the five gas chambers, ponds where the ashes of thousands of people were dumped without ceremony, and a memorial site. Note that walking through the whole site may take several hours. Some visitors find the experience harrowing.
  • Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum [1]
  • Participate in one of the guided tours of the site
  • Visit on your own a day or two after a guided tour. A guided tour may be a bit rushed to fully experience the emotions of the place.


Please remember that you are essentially visiting a mass grave site, as well as a site that has an almost incalculable meaning to a significant portion of the world's population. There are still many men and women alive who survived their time here, and many more who had loved ones who were murdered or worked to death there, both Jewish and gentile. Please treat the site with the dignity, solemnity and respect it deserves. Do not make jokes about the Holocaust or Nazis. Do not deface the site by marking or scratching graffiti into structures. Pictures are permitted in outdoor areas, but remember this is a memorial rather than a tourist attraction, and there will undoubtedly be visitors who have a personal connection with the camps, so be discreet with cameras.


You cannot sleep at the camps. The closest accommodation options are in Oświęcim.


There's a basic cafe and cafeteria in the main visitors' centre of Auschwitz 1 and a coffee machine in the bookshop at Birkenau. More options are in a commercial complex across the street from Auschwitz 1, although the quality of one (the Art Hamburger) is rather poor, but a cheap and quick eat. There are hot dog stalls and similar outlets outside the main museum at the end of the bus/car park.

This is a usable article. It has information for getting in as well as some complete entries for restaurants and hotels. An adventurous person could use this article, but please plunge forward and help it grow!


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary



Wikipedia has an article on:



From German Auschwitz, the German name for the nearby town of Oświęcim

Proper noun




  1. An infamous concentration camp in Poland, and a symbol of Nazi evil.
  2. (Can we verify(+) this sense?) (by extension) The Holocaust during the Second World War.


Proper noun


  1. Oświęcim (the town).


Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address