History of the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp

The Auschwitz concentration camp is a symbol of terror, genocide and a testimony to the tragic history of millions of people. Today it is a very important point of many excursion programs in the vicinity of Krakow. Past the “Arbeit mach frei” Auschwitz entrance gate, there is not only a collection of museum exhibits. Every inch of this land tells true stories of the cruelty, martyrdom and heroism of prisoners. In order to truly understand and feel the atmosphere of this unique place, a visit to the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp cannot be only one of the many “attractions” to visit. We invite you to learn about the vitally important history of this place.

The area of the former Nazi concentration camp

What is a concentration camp?

From the very beginning of its seizure of power, the Nazi regime built prison facilities to isolate and eliminate political enemies. The first concentration camps were to be used for prison, labor, murder or intimidation of the leaders of political and social movements that the Nazis considered a threat.

Who and when invented the concentration camps?

Concentration camps were established long before the outbreak of World War II. The first facility of this type was built in March 1933 in Dachau near Munich. It was founded by the

head of the SS, Heinrich Himmler. Five years later, camps in Oranienburg, Sachsenhausen, Buchenwald, Ravensbrück and Flossenburg already existed in the III Reich as places of persecution of opponents of the Nazi regime.

Auschwitz-Birkenau camp

Where is the Auschwitz extermination camp in Poland located?

There were 9 German Nazi extermination camps in Poland. The largest of them was Auschwitz located in the south of the country. It was the so-called Konzentrationslager KL – forced labor camp.

What is the location of Auschwitz I camp?

On April 27, 1940, Heinrich Himmler ordered the establishment of a concentration camp in Poland, 70 km from Krakow, in Auschwitz. As early as May 20, 30 criminals of German nationality were brought here to act as camp staff. The immediate reason for the founding of the Auschwitz I camp was the rapidly increasing number of massively arrested Polish political prisoners. The first mass transport to Auschwitz took place on June 14, 1940. 728 people were transported by train from Tarnów. In remembrance of that day, the Polish Parliament established the National Day of Remembrance for the Victims of the German Nazi Concentration and Death Camps.

Arbeit macht frei gate

What was the Auschwitz camp like?

It was supposed to be the management center for the entire complex consisting of 28 blocks. The first inmates were to make the famous inscription on the gates of Auschwitz “Arbeit macht frei” and expand the camp with new blocks, for example, number 11, known as the “death block”, with a gas chamber in the basement and the execution gate. It was here that zyklon B was used for the first time on a mass scale. Medical experiments were carried out in block 10. They were very cruel and performed without anesthesia. The experiments by Josef Mengele known as the Angel of Death resulted in the greatest number of victims. By the end of 1943, KL Auschwitz had become a huge criminal institution where tens of thousands of people were imprisoned and hundreds of thousands were murdered.

What is the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp?

The construction of the second camp, the so-called Auschwitz II-Birkenau was started in October 1941, 3 km from the existing “main camp”. It was planned for Polish and Soviet prisoners of war. Eventually, it became a concentration camp, and since spring of 1942, a place where the policy of “final solution to the Jewish question” was implemented. The Auschwitz-Birkenau camp was the largest concentration camp complex created by the Nazis. There were wooden and brick barracks, gas chambers and crematoria, and the so-called Canada warehouses with looted property.

“The Death Gate” Birkenau

Where was the Auschwitz III camp located?

Auschwitz-Monowitz concentration camp was established at the end of October 1942 at the Buna-Werke synthetic rubber and liquid fuels factory for the needs of the IG Farben industrial plant. It was founded in the area of a displaced and demolished Polish village. It was supposed to provide cheap labor. Apart from Birkenau and Monowitz, there were as many as 42 forced labor sub-camps for prisoners in the area. The liquidation of Auschwitz-Monowitz took place in January 1945. The Germans evacuated most of the prisoners to Gliwice, and from there they were transported to the Buchenwald and Mauthausen camps. The factory was destroyed during an American bomber raid. After the war, the NKVD in Monowitz established a camp for the German prisoners who transported all the factory equipment to the USSR. Currently, there are only reinforced concrete structures of bunkers and a monument.

One of the cattle cars transporting people to Auschwitz

What happened in Auschwitz?

It is not easy to answer the question of how many people died at Auschwitz. As historians and experts estimate, in less than 5 years 1 to 1.5 million people in Auschwitz lost their lives. The majority (1-1.35 million) were Jews brought in mass transports from 1942. Estimating how many of them died in Auschwitz is extremely difficult as many of them were murdered in the Auschwitz gas chambers and were never recorded. The second largest group were Poles (70-75 thousand), and the third – Roma. Of the more than a million people deported to Auschwitz, about 400,000 were registered. (200,000 Jews, over 140,000 Poles, approx. 20,000 Roma people and over 10,000 Soviet prisoners of war). More than half of them did not cross the Auschwitz entrance gate again.

Birkenau barracks

Who liberated Auschwitz?

In the second half of 1944, the SS authorities started to cover up the traces and destroy evidence of the murders committed in Auschwitz and to remove the property left by the victims. Since August 1944, the Nazi authorities managed to transport around 100,000 prisoners as slave labor and a large amount of belongings. Only 7,000 prisoners lived to see the liberation of the Auschwitz I main camp as well as the Auschwitz II-Birkenau and Monowitz camps. Due to massive destruction of documents, it is difficult to say how many people survived Auschwitz. Some of them escaped, some of them will remain unknown forever.

When was Auschwitz liberated?

On January 27, 1945, soldiers of the 60th Army of the First Ukrainian Front appeared in the Monowitz sub-camp. The main camp of Auschwitz I and the Auschwitz II-Birkenau camp were liberated at around 3 p.m. Extremely exhausted prisoners, many of them children, greeted the soldiers. Photos and film materials taken at that time shocked the whole world.

Tourists in Auschwitz

Auschwitz and Birkenau State Museum

To commemorate this shameful past, as a warning against evil and as a tribute to the victims, in 1947 the State Museum was established at the Auschwitz camp. About two million tourists visit this memorial every year to see how cruelly people were treated, how harsh conditions they lived and how they died. The shockingly authentic exhibitions at the Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau camps show hundreds of everyday objects, fragments of clothing, torture devices, as well as the ruins of gas chambers, prisoners’ barracks, cells and a ramp.

The Museum in Auschwitz is undoubtedly a unique point on the map of the whole of Europe. It is worth crossing the “Arbeit macht frei” gate, which is a symbol of pure evil, at least once. It will be a memorable experience. Disbelief is mixed here with disagreement to cruelty and ruthlessness of the torturers. Everything seems too inhuman to be true.

Due to the great interest, a visit to Auschwitz should be planned well in advance. Numerous organized tours on the Krakow-Auschwitz route offer comfortable sightseeing. Professional guides take care that the memory of this dark chapter in the history of mankind lasts for generations, so that never again a similar inhumanity would stain the pages of history.