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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
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  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.
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  41. ^ Rees 2005, pp. 260-265.
  42. ^ Commandant of Auschwitz: Rudolf Höß. Appendix one, pp. 193-194. ISBN 1-84212-024-7
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  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. ^
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  • 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

Simple English

File:Auschwitz-Work Set
Front gate of Auschwitz. The sign reads "Work makes you free"

Auschwitz concentration camp was the largest concentration camp of Nazi Germany. Its name comes from the name of the town where it stood, Oświęcim. Auschwitz is the name of Oświęcim in the German language.

People also call these death camps by other names including Auschwitz, Konzentrationslager Auschwitz-Birkenau, KL Auschwitz, and the Former Nazi German Concentration Camp of Auschwitz. Beginning in 1940, Nazi Germany built many concentration camps there. In these death camps, Nazi Germany killed about 3.0-3.5 million people.[1][2] 90% of them were Jewish people.[3]

Schutzstaffel (SS in short) under the direct control of Heinrich Himmler operated these death camps. SS also operated many such camps in Nazi Germany. Until the summer of 1943, the commander of Auschwitz was Rudolf Hoess. After him, Arthur Liebehenschel and Richard Baer became commander of the camp. After the Second World War, Hoess wrote his autobiography had given many details about these camps. After the Second World War, he received the death penalty, and the authorities hanged him in front of the crematorium of Auschwitz I. Johanna Langefeld, Maria Mandel, and Elisabeth Volkenrath managed the women prisoners of Auschwitz.

About 700 prisoners tried to escape from different Auschwitz camps. Only 300 succeeded. Guards caught the families of the prisoners who escaped or tried to escape. They kept them as prisoners. They showed the family members to other prisoners to prevent any escape attempts.


The Camps

Auschwitz was a big complex of many concentration camps. There were three main camps:

  • Auschwitz I, the original concentration camp. It served as the office of the entire Auschwitz complex. In this camp, Nazi Germany killed about 70,000 people, mostly Polish people and Prisoners of War from the Soviet Union..[2]
  • Auschwitz II, that is, chance place, was an extermination camp (death camp). In this camp, the Nazis killed at least 1.1 million Jews, 75,000 Polish people, and about 19,000 Roma (gypsies).[2]
  • Auschwitz III, that is, Monowitz, was a labor camp. The prisoners worked as slave workers for the Buna-Werke factory of the IG Farben group.

There were many other sub-camps around these three main camps.

Auschwitz I

Auschwitz I served as the office for all camps at the place. The Nazi Germany had established this on 20th May 1940. Beginning on 14th June 1940, the Nazi Germany started keeping prisoners there. The first batches were of 728 prisoners from Poland and then 48 homosexual persons from Germany. Then Jews arrived as prisoners. At any time, there were between 13,000 and 16,000 prisoners. In 1942, the number increased to 20,000. However, contrary to as shown in many films, most of the Jew prisoners were in Auschwitz II. Still no one knows exactly how many people were sent to camps.

The SS selected some prisoners, generally of German nationality, to work as guards. They called these guards “kapos”. The prisoners’ clothes carried different marks to distinguish different types of prisoners. Generally, the Jews got the worst treatment.

On Sundays, the prisoners did not have to do work. On this day, they did cleaning and washing. The living conditions were very bad and food supplies were worse. Many prisoners died regularly due to the bad conditions.

The SS built many types of rooms to give different types of punishments to prisoners. They constructed rooms of 1.5 metres square. They kept four people in such a room standing all night, and forced them to work during the day. In some other rooms, the SS officers kept people and did not give them any water or food. These people were left to die of hunger. In some rooms, there would be only a small window. They kept people there and they died as the room’s air became without oxygen. They also hanged people in a way that their shoulder joints got broken. They remained hanging for hours and days, suffered much pain and finally died. The camp also had a place to kill people by firing gunshots at them. They also hanged some persons and they died a slow and painful death.

On 3rd September 1941, the SS did the first testing of poison gas on prisoners at this camp. They used Hydrogen cyanide or Zyklon B. In this test, they killed 600 Prisoners of Wars of the Soviet Union and about 250 Poles. When the SS found that the test was a success, they constructed a gas chamber and a crematorium in block 11 of the camp. They used this from 1941 to 1942, and killed about 60,000 people by sending them to the gas chamber. After this, they made this as an air-raid shelter for the use of SS. The gas chamber still exists after reconstruction using the original parts. Now, it is a part of the museum.

On 26th March 1942, the first women prisoner arrived at Auschwitz. A gynecologist Dr. C. Allan did many types of experiments on Jewish women during the period from April 1943 to May 1944. She was trying to develop a simple injection to make these women sterilized. Another doctor named Joseph Mengele did experiments on twins and dwarfs. He did things like castration without using any anesthetics. All these experiments were very crude and painful. Many women and men died during these experiments. The doctors killed many patients of the camp’s hospital by giving them injection of phenol if the patients did not recover quickly.

At the order of Heinrich Himmler’s order, SS even established a brothel in Auschwitz in summer of 1943. The women working in the brothel were non-Jewish prisoners. The brothel was established to reward prisoners of high value to the Nazis (such as group leaders and chefs).

Auschwitz II

Auschwitz II (Birkenau, pronounced BERK-IN-NOW) was another part of the complex. Many people know this simply by the name of "Auschwitz". Here Nazi Germany killed over one million people, mostly Jews, poles and gypsies.

The Nazis began concentrating Birkenau (Brzezinka) in October 1941. Holocaust Survivors' Network had posted a photograph of this place. Auschwitz II had four gas chambers. These gas chambers looked like showers. Auschwitz II also had four crematoria. In the gas chambers, people were killed by using gas and in the crematorium, they burnt the bodies of the dead persons.

Everyday Nazi authorities brought many prisoners by rail to Auschwitz. The Nazis separated these prisoners into three groups. Within hours they sent about 66% of prisoners to gas chambers where they died. This 66% generally included all children, all women, all elderly persons, and others whom SS officers thought not fully fit to do work. Everyday SS killed in gas chambers about 20,000 persons. They used a cyanide gas to kill these persons. The SS selected some fit persons for working as slave labor at companies like I. G. Farben and Krupp. Records indicate that between 1940 and 1945, about 405,000 persons worked as slave labors. Out of them, about 340,000 died during this period. Oskar Schindler, a German industrialist saved about 1,000 Jews from Poland. He sent them away at his factory, and these Jews lived. SS officials made a third group mostly of twins and dwarfs. Nazi doctors like Josef Mengele did experiments on these persons.

The SS used some prisoners for different works in the camp like kapos (orderlies) and sonderkommandos (workers at the crematoria). The kapos maintained discipline. Sonderkommandos took the dead bodies from the gas chambers to the crematorium for burning the bodies. Before burning, they even took out gold from the filling in dead persons’ teeth, if any. From time to time, SS also killed some of the kapos and sonderkommandos. Altogether about 6,000 SS members worked at Auschwitz.

By 1943 many resistance groups had come up inside the camps of Auschwitz. These groups helped some prisoners to escape from Auschwitz. These persons brought the information to the world about the killings taking place inside the Auschwitz. If one prisoner escaped, the SS killed many other prisoners, and sometimes arrested the family members of the escaped prisoners and paraded them in the camps. This was to stop other prisoners from attempting any escape.

On 27th January 1945, the Red Army of the Soviet Union reached the camp complex. All the SS guards and officers had fled. They had forced march more than 58,000 prisoners on a death march to Germany. The Red Army found about 7,600 persons in the camp.

In 1947 Poland founded a museum at the site of the Auschwitz camps. By 1994, about 22 million visitors came to the museum.

Auschwitz III

In Auschwitz III and many other sub-camps, the SS kept the prisoners who worked as slave workers for factories of I. G. Farben. Doctors from Auschwitz II came to visit these camps from time to time. If they found unfit and weak persons, these persons had to go to Auschwitz II. There the SS guards killed them in the gas chambers.

The information

The Allies received some information about Auschwitz camps during 1941-1944. However, the authorities did not believe the figures of killings. Two people, namely Rudolf Vrba and Alfred Wetzler escaped from these camps. They presented their reports, and Allied leaders learned the truth about Auschwitz in the middle of 1944.

During 1944, airplanes of the Allies had taken some photographs of the area, which included Auschwitz camps. However, no one analyzed these photographs. Only in 1970s, the authorities looked at these photographs carefully. At one time, the allied had planned bombing the camps. But, they dropped the idea as this might have endangered the lives of the prisoners. In fact some planes dropped bombs at nearby military targets. One bomb fell on the camp and killed some prisoners. The debate still continues about the steps, which could have been taken to save the killings of the prisoners by the SS.


By late-1944, the Red Army had come closer to the place. The SS personnel managing the camps blew up the gas chambers of Birkenau to hide their crimes of killing. On 17th January 1945, Nazi personnel started to vacate the camps. They forced the prisoners held there to march towards west. They left behind only those who could not march. On 27th January 1945, the troops of the 322nd Infantry of the Red Army reached the place. They found and freed about 7,500 prisoners.


Little is known about the number of people who died at Auschwitz and other camps. It is thought to be a large number. The Nazis destroyed most of the records. Studies to arrive at the figures depend on the witnesses and persons of Nuremberg Trials. In some case, survivors’ accounts helped to fix some rough figures.

The communist governments of the Soviet Union and the Poland had reported the number at 4 million. Witnesses and the persons facing trials at Nuremberg Trials gave lower figures. Nazi Rudolf Hoess said that between 2.5 and 3 million had been killed, while Adolf Eichmann gave a figure of 2 million. In 1983, French scholar George Wellers was one of the first to use Nazi data on deportations to estimate the number killed at Auschwitz. He calculated a figure of 1.613 million dead, including 1.42 million Jews and 146,000 Poles. Around the same time, Franciszek Piper used timetables of train arrivals and other records of sending out of people by the Nazis. He calculated 1.1 million Jewish deaths and 140,000-150,000 Polish victims, along with 23,000 Roma (gypsies). Many scholars think this figure might be the right order of magnitude.

After the war

After few years of the Second World War, the government of Poland decided to restore Auschwitz I. They repaired some of the camps. Sometimes they did very minor changes from the original set up – but this they indicated by placing suitable notices. Auschwitz II and the remains of the gas chambers are also part of the museum. The museum had many sections. One section has very large number of shoes of men, women and children. Another section has suitcases, which the victims had brought. In fact, victims brought many things including household utensil thinking that Nazis were taking them to another place for re-settlement. One display case about 30 metres long displays human hair of the victims. Before killing the persons, the SS removed the hairs. They opened the museum in 1947 for the public. The museum was to honor the victims of the Nazism. The people later on scattered the ashes of the victims between the huts. They see the entire area as a gravesite.

The UNESCO had declared the site as a World Heritage Site.

In 1979, Polish Pope John Paul II celebrated Mass on the grounds of Auschwitz II. After the pope had announced beatification of Edith Stein, Catholics erected a cross near bunker 2 of Auschwitz II where SS had gassed Edith Stein. After some time, a Star of David appeared at the site. Many religious symbols appeared. Finally people removed all of them.

In 1984, Carmelites opened a convent near Auschwitz I. When Jewish groups protested, they removed the convent in 1987. In 1988, Carmelites erected one 8 metre (26 ft) tall cross outside the block 11. When the Jewish group protested saying that most of the killed were Jewish people, 300 smaller crosses appeared by 1998. Finally, people removed the smaller crosses but the larger one continues to stand.

On 27th January 1945, the Red Army of the Soviet Union had freed the Auschwitz camps. In 1996, Germany honors the victims of Nazism on 27th January. In 2005, the European Parliament marked the anniversary of the camp's liberation in 2005 with a minute of silence. The European Parliament also passed a resolution condemning the murder of about 1.5 million people at Auschwitz camps. The resolution also told about “the disturbing rise in anti-semitism, and especially anti-semitic incidents, in Europe, and for learning anew the wider lessons about the dangers of victimizing people on the basis of race, ethnic origin, religion, social classification, politics or sexual orientation."


The communist governments of the Soviet Union and Poland had noted on a memorial plate out of the Auschwitz camps. The plated showed number of killed as 4 million. After the fall of the communist government in Poland in 1989, the plate showed a different figure: 1.1 million. People who try to deny about the Holocaust had used this variance in the figures to claim that Holocaust was something like a propaganda. However, the fact remains that more than SS killed at least 1.1 million persons in Auschwitz camps, and Holocaust is a fact of history.

Recently the Polish media and the government had raised objections on the use of the name like "Polish death camps" to describe the Auschwitz camps. Use of such a name was misleading and gave an impression of involvement of Poland. On April 1, 2006, a Polish Culture Ministry spokesman said that the government requested that UNESCO change the name from "Auschwitz Concentration Camp" to "Former Nazi German Concentration Camp Auschwitz-Birkenau". This was necessary to avoid misleading the public and to show that Nazis of Germany ran the camps and not the authorities of Poland.

The Polish government had allowed filming at the sites for two films, and a TV series. However, in some cases, they had disallowed filming inside the camps. In February 2006, Poland refused visas to some researchers from Iran to visit Auschwitz. They took this step as the President of Iran Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has dismissed the Holocaust as false.


  1. Piper, Franciszek; review of Meyer, Fritjof. "Die Zahl der Opfer von Auschwitz. Neue Erkentnisse durch neue Archivfunde", Osteuropa, 52, Jg., 5/2002, pp. 631-641.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Please note that the numbers given vary widely; Fritjof Meyer says that about 55.000 people were slaughtered, about 365.000 of them in the gas chamber."Die Kontroverse um Fritjof Meyers Artikel in "Osteuropa" (mostly German)".  Rudolf Höß talks about 2.5 million victims. (Erklärung Höß vom 24. April 1946, Gustave Gilbert:Nürnberger Tagebuch Seite 448-450,Fischer Taschenbuchverlag,1962,ISBN 3-596-21885-3)
  3. Piper, Franciszek Piper. "The Number of Victims" in Gutman, Yisrael & Berenbaum, Michael. Anatomy of the Auschwitz Death Camp, Indiana University Press, 1994; this edition 1998, p. 62.

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