Auschwitz-Birkenau

The concentration camp, which was built in 1940 and later expanded to become an extermination camp, became a symbol of the National Socialists’ Holocaust against around 6 million European Jews and other victims. The memorial, established in Auschwitz and Birkenau in 1947, commemorates the up to 1.6 million victims who were murdered there within five years.

Auschwitz-Birkenau: Facts

Official title: Auschwitz-Birkenau – German National Socialist Concentration and Extermination Camp (1940-1945)
»Culture« monument: Labor and extermination camps – on an area of ​​40 km² with three camp groups since November 1943: Main camp Auschwitz 1 with an average of 18,000 inmates, Birkenau (Auschwitz 2) concentration camp with a total of 363,000 inmates, including 28,000 fatalities, Monowitz concentration camp (Auschwitz 3), the labor camp the Buna-Werke (IG-Farben AG) with an average of 15,000 inmates; Total victims about 4 million
Continent: Europe
Country: Poland
Location: Óswie¸cim (Auschwitz), near Krakow
Appointment: 1979
Meaning: Testimony to the systematic genocide in the so-called Third Reich

Auschwitz-Birkenau: History

1940-43 Rudolf Höß camp commandant
May 20, 1940 Construction of the labor and extermination camps
11/22/1940 first shootings
10/14/1941 Beginning of the deportations from the German Reich to the extermination camps in Eastern Europe
January 20, 1942 Wannsee Conference on the “Final Solution of the Jewish Question”
March 26, 1942 first transports of the so-called “final solution program” of the “Jewish question”
May 12, 1942 first datable gassing
June 23, 1942 to November 2, 1944 systematic gassings
January 18, 1945 last evacuation march
January 26, 1945 Order to destroy the crematoria
January 27, 1945 Liberation of the camps by the Red Army
1947 Death sentence against Rudolf Höss, who is hanged on the floor of the Auschwitz concentration camp
1999 Protest march against a planned law to establish a “protection zone” around the memorial
May 28, 2006 Pope Benedict XVI visits the Auschwitz camp as part of his apostolic trip to Poland.

Symbol of inhumanity

Today the Polish Oświęcim is a small industrial town at the confluence of the Vistula and Sola rivers. Under its German name Auschwitz, it is synonymous with one of the greatest crimes of humanity: the murder of millions of Jews by Nazi Germany.

In the spring of 1940, on the orders of Reichsführer SS Heinrich Himmler, according to thesciencetutor, a new concentration and extermination camp was set up in occupied Poland in order to promote the “final solution to the Jewish question” – the murder of all Jews in Europe. A 40 km² area between the Sola and Vistula rivers was chosen as the location for the largest concentration camp of the Nazi era. Three main camps were set up here: the main camp Auschwitz I, the extermination camp Auschwitz-Birkenau, also called Auschwitz II, and the Buna-Monowitz (Auschwitz III) labor camp, which was run by the chemical company IG Farben and other armaments factories for those from the other two camps Work slave was established. There were also around 40 external camps.

Auschwitz I served as a concentration and labor camp. A total of 18,000 prisoners were mostly housed here – under catastrophic hygienic conditions. Blocks 19, 20, 21 and 28 were hospital blocks, block 10 was where cruel medical experiments took place, and block 11 was the infamous “bunker” or “death block”: inmates were locked in tiny standing cells for days and weeks. Between blocks 10 and 11 was the “black wall” where thousands of prisoners were shot.

Auschwitz-Birkenau was built three kilometers away from the main camp. The camp had only one purpose: to kill people. The railway tracks led through the main gate directly to the so-called ramp. There the prisoners, who had often been transported for days, penned in cattle wagons, were selected. Anyone who was “fit for work” was used for forced labor. Anyone who was “unable to work” – and that was the majority of the newcomers – was immediately taken to the gas chambers.

To this end, seven gas chambers and five crematoria were built in Auschwitz-Birkenau. How many people were murdered there is unclear because the SS destroyed the documents. However, historians assume 1.5 million victims: 90 percent of them were Jews, and Poles, Soviet prisoners of war, homosexuals and Sinti and Roma were also murdered in Auschwitz. The camp was secured by a double electric fence with a deadly voltage of 6000 volts. Between the fences, five meter high watchtowers were positioned 150 meters apart, equipped with searchlights and machine guns. Escape was therefore almost impossible.

When the Red Army moved further and further west in January 1945, the SS began evacuating the camp on January 17. Around 60,000 prisoners were driven west on death marches. Only those who were too sick or too weak stayed in the camp. When they arrived on January 27, 1945, the Soviet soldiers found around 7,500 camp inmates. They also found a million items of clothing, 45,000 pairs of shoes and seven tons of hair, which revealed the extent of the crimes that had taken place here.

The former concentration camp is now in the same condition as it was between 1942 and 1944. In addition to a Holocaust research center and an international meeting center, a museum is housed there: a symbol for human cruelty, but also for the power of the human spirit, which cannot be broken even under the most adverse circumstances. Auschwitz today is both a memorial and a memorial and warns of what extreme ideologies can do if they disregard all human dignity.

Auschwitz-Birkenau