Auschwitz

Auschwitz_Camp_de_Concentration.jpg
Auschwitz Concentration Camp


The Auschwitz concentration camp complex was the largest of its kind established by the Nazi regime. It included three main camps, all of which deployed incarcerated prisoners at forced labor. One of them also functioned for an extended period as a killing center. The camps were located approximately 37 miles west of Krakow, near the prewar German-Polish border in Upper Silesia, an area that Nazi Germany annexed in 1939 after invading and conquering Poland. The SS authorities established three main camps near the Polish city of Oswiecim: Auschwitz I in May 1940; Auschwitz II (also called Auschwitz-Birkenau) in early 1942; and Auschwitz III (also called Auschwitz-Monowitz) in October 1942.

Auschwitz I, the main camp, was the first camp established near Oswiecim. Construction began in May 1940 in an abandoned Polish army artillery barracks, located in a suburb of the city. The SS authorities continuously deployed prisoners at forced labor to expand the physical contours of the camp. During the first year of the camp's existence, the SS and police cleared a zone of approximately 40 15 square miles as a "development zone" reserved for the exclusive use of the camp. The first prisoners transferred from Sachsenhausen concentration camp in Germany, where they were imprisoned as repeat criminal offenders, and Polish political prisoners from Lodz via Dachau concentration camp and from Tarnow in Krakow District of the Generalgouvernement (the part of German occupied-Poland not annexed to Nazi Germany or incorporated into the German-occupied Soviet Union).

Similar to most German concentration camps, Auschwitz I was constructed to serve three purposes: 1) to imprison real and perceived enemies of the Nazi regime and the German occupation authorities in Poland for an indefinite period of time; 2) to have available a supply of forced laborers for deployment in SS-owned, construction-related enterprises (and, later, armaments and other war-related production); and 3) to serve as a site to physically eliminate small, targeted groups of the population whose death was determined by the SS and police authorities to be essential to the security of Nazi Germany. Like most other concentration camps, Auschwitz I had a gas chamber and crematorium. Initially, SS engineers constructed an improvised gas chamber in the basement of the prison block, Block 11. Later a larger, permanent gas chamber was constructed as part of the original crematorium in a separate building outside the prisoner compound.

At Auschwitz I, SS physicians carried out medical experiments in the hospital, Barrack (Block) 10. They conducted pseudoscientific research on infants, twins, and dwarfs, and performed forced sterilizations, castrations, and hypothermia experiments on adults. The best-known of these physicians was SS Captain Dr. Josef Mengele.
Between the crematorium and the medical-experiments barrack stood the "Black Wall," where SS guards executed thousands of prisoners.

Construction of Auschwitz II, or Auschwitz-Birkenau, began in the vicinity of Brzezinka in October 1941. Of the three camps established near Oswiecim, the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp had the largest total prisoner population. It was divided into more than a dozen sections separated by electrified barbed-wire fences and, like Auschwitz I, was patrolled by SS guards, including -- after 1942 -- SS dog handlers. The camp included sections for women, men, a family camp for (Gypsies) deported from Germany, Austria and the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, and a family camp for Jewish families deported from the Thersienstadt ghetto.

Auschwitz-Birkenau also contained the facilities for a killing center. It played a central role in the German plan to kill the Jews of Europe. During the summer and autumn of 1941, Zyklon B gas was introduced into the German concentration camp system as a means for murder. At Auschwitz I, in September, the SS first tested Zyklon B as an instrument of mass murder. The "success" of these experiments led to the adoption of Zyklon B for all the gas chambers at the Auschwitz complex. Near Birkenau, the SS initially converted two farmhouses for use as gas chambers. “Provisional” gas chamber I went into operation in January 1942 and was later dismantled. Provisional gas chamber II operated from June 1942 through the fall of 1944. The SS judged these facilities to be inadequate for the scale of gassing they planned at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Four large crematorium buildings were constructed between March and June 1943. Each had three components: a disrobing area, a large gas chamber, and crematorium ovens. The SS continued gassing operations at Auschwitz-Birkenau until November 1944.

Auschwitz III, also called Buna or Monowitz, was established in October 1942 to house prisoners assigned to work at the Buna synthetic rubber works, located on the outskirts of the Polish town of Monowice. In the spring of 1941, the German conglomerate I.G. Farben established a factory in which its executives intended to exploit concentration camp labor for their plans to manufacture synthetic rubber and fuels. I.G. Farben invested more than 700 million Reichsmarks (about 1.4 million U.S. dollars in 1942 terms) in Auschwitz III. From May 1941 until October 1942, the SS had transported prisoners from Auschwitz I to the “Buna Detachment,” at first on foot and later by rail. With the construction of Auschwitz III in the autumn of 1942, prisoners deployed at Buna lived in Auschwitz III.

Auschwitz III also had a so-called Labor Education Camp for non-Jewish prisoners who were perceived to have violated German-imposed labor discipline.


On January 27, 1945, the Soviet army entered Auschwitz, Birkenau, and Monowitz and liberated around 7,000 prisoners, most of whom were ill and dying. It is estimated that the SS and police deported at a minimum 1.3 million people to Auschwitz complex between 1940 and 1945. Of these, the camp authorities murdered 1.1 million.

Copyright © United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington, D.C.
Encyclopedia Last Updated: March 16, 2010


http://www.pbs.org/auschwitz/maps/#