Auschwitz Concentration Camp | Largest extermination camp by Nazi Germany

Auschwitz-BirkenauAuschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp

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What is Auschwitz? 

Established by Germans in 1940, in the suburbs of Oswiecim, a Polish city, Auschwitz was a Nazi concentration and death camp. By 1942, it became the largest of the extermination centers where the ‘Endlösung der Judenfrage’, also known as the final solution to the Jewish question, was carried out.  More than 1 million people lost their lives at Auschwitz during World War II. The Auschwitz concentration camps in Poland continue to stand as evidence of the inhumane and methodical effort by Nazi Germany to deny dignity to minority groups. 

What was Auschwitz before the concentration camp?

Auschwitz Concentration Camp before

Auschwitz today 

Auschwitz Concentration Camp today

Inside Auschwitz-Birkenau

At the peak of its operations, Auschwitz covered about 40 sq km, and had more than 40 camps. In  November 1943, due to the difficulties in managing the growing complex, the Auschwitz Concentration Camps were divided into three. Today, Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau are open to visitors.

Auschwitz I  of Auschwitz Concentration Camp

Auschwitz I 

Constructed to incarcerate enemies of the Nazi regime, provide a supply of forced laborers, and serve as a site of extermination, the original camp, Auschwitz I, housed about 16,000 prisoners. Its main gate carries the infamous inscription, “Arbeit Macht Frei”, meaning “Work Makes You Free.”   

This was the location of the SS garrison administration. It had a gas chamber, crematorium, and Barrack 10, where SS physicians carried out pseudo-medical experiments. You can still see these structures as part of the Auschwitz Museum.

Auschwitz II-Birkenau of Auschwitz Concentration Camp

Auschwitz II-Birkenau

Auschwitz II, or Auschwitz-Birkenau, about 72 km from Krakow, began being constructed in October 1941. Birkenau, the biggest of the Auschwitz facilities, was divided into ten sections, each separated by electrified barbed-wire fences. After its opening in March 1942, it acted as a center for the extermination of Jewish people. It housed a group of gas chambers and crematoriums. More than 40 smaller facilities, called subcamps, served as slave-labor camps. The majority of victims of the Auschwitz Concentration Camp died in Birkenau.

Auschwitz III-Monowitz of Auschwitz Concentration Camp

Auschwitz III-Monowitz & Subcamps 

Largest of the subcamps of Auschwitz, Monowitz began operating in 1942. Created as a barrack-camp for slave laborers working in the IG Farben and other factories, Monowitz came to be seen as the headquarters of the industrial sub-camps. Despite better conditions than in Birkenau, the hard labor took a toll on the prisoners. 1,670 prisoners were murdered at the site or died in the sub-camp hospital. 11,000 were sent to Auschwitz and Birkenau, to be killed.  The Monowitz and other subcamps are not open to visitors.

Life and Death in Auschwitz Concentration Camp

Arrival of Jews

  • The prisoners would be separated into two groups: ‘men’ and ‘women and children’. Doctors examined them. Those considered unfit for work, such as pregnant women, were ordered to take showers and led to gas chambers. 
  • Others would be registered and given a prisoner number, which would be tattooed onto their left arm. They would be assigned to a barrack and work detail. They would be told to undress, after which they were forced to have their head shaved, and shower. They would be handed a striped uniform.

Life for the Inmates

  • The day at Auschwitz Concentration Camp began at dawn. The prisoners were woken up at the sound of a gong. A second gong would prompt everyone to rush for roll-call, after which they went for work. Work hours would stretch to 12 hours during summer, and be reduced during winter. Visits to the washrooms were only allowed at designated times. Prisoners returned to the camp before nightfall. 
  • Sunday was not a workday. They spent the day tidying up their barracks, taking weekly showers, and mending or washing their clothes.

Punishments & Execution

  • Attempts to get extra food, shirk work, smoking, relieving oneself outside the designated time, wearing non-regulation clothing, or attempting to commit suicide were all considered offences.
  • Crimes did not always fetch similar punishments. Flogging, confinement in block 11, or assignment to the penal company were the most common types of punishment. The “post”, or hanging torture, was an especially painful punishment, which was usually inflicted for several hours at a time. It would often leave the victim unable to work, and they would be sent to the gas chambers.

Liberation from Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps

  • Auschwitz commandants began destroying evidence of the horrors that took place at the concentration camps towards the end of 1944, with the defeat of Nazi Germany by the Allied forces seeming certain. 
  • In January 1945, the Soviet army entered Krakow. In a final effort to eliminate all evidence, the Germans forced 60,000 detainees, accompanied by Nazi guards, to march to the Polish towns. Countless prisoners died during this process. Those who survived were sent on trains to concentration camps in Germany.
  • The Soviet army entered Auschwitz Concentration Camp on January 27 and found about 7,000 sick or emaciated detainees, mounds of corpses, pieces of clothing, shoes, and seven tons of human hair that had been shaved from detainees before their liquidation. 

Frequently asked questions about Auschwitz concentration camps

What is the Auschwitz concentration camp famous for?

Auschwitz concentration camp was the most notorious of all Nazi death camps, and today, it stands as a symbol of the Holocaust.

Was Auschwitz the biggest concentration camp created?

Spread over 191 hectares, Auschwitz was the largest of the German Nazi concentration camps and extermination centers.

Who created the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland?

The Auschwitz concentration camp was created by German Nazis as part of Hilter’s Final Solution policy that called for the extermination of the Jews.

How many prisoners were there in the Auschwitz concentration camps?

Estimates suggest that 1.3 million people were sent to the death camp in occupied Poland.

How long did the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps in Poland last?

Established in 1940, the Auschwitz concentration camp went on to function until January 1945, when the Soviet army entered Auschwitz, Birkenau, and Monowitz concentration camp and liberated more than six thousand prisoners.

How many Jews died in the Auschwitz death camps?

In just over four-and-a-half years, Nazi Germany systematically murdered at least 1.1 million people at Auschwitz. Of this, almost one million were Jews.

When were the Jews freed from the Auschwitz-Birkenau ?

The Jews were liberated from the Auschwitz and Birkenau concentration camps by the Soviet forces in January 1945.

How many people survived the Auschwitz concentration camp?

Although most of the prisoners had been forced onto a death march, about 7,000 had been left behind in the Nazi concentration camps. Most of them were ill or dying.

How were the Jews tortured at the Auschwitz holocaust concentration camps?

The Jews were stripped of their identity in the holocaust camps in Poland. They were forced to work, live in terrible conditions, and provided insufficient nutrition. They were also subjected to arbitrary executions, torture, and retribution as well as inhumane medical experimentation.

What can we see when we visit Auschwitz extermination camps today?

You can see the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum. Here you can find the concentration and extermination camps at Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau, as well as relics from the camp.

Can visitors view all the camps at Auschwitz?

Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau are open to visitors. Auschwitz III- Monowitz and other subcamps are not open to the public.

Is Auschwitz-Birkenau a UNESCO World Heritage site?

Yes, Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp is the only death camp on the UNESCO World Heritage site.

Does the Auschwitz concentration camp still exist?

Today, it exists as the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum, and continues to stand as a symbol of the horrors of the Holocaust.

Where is Auschwitz concentration camp?

Auschwitz-Birkenau, the haunting reminder of one of history's darkest chapters, is situated in Oswiecim, a town in southern Poland. Nestled amidst serene landscapes, this sobering memorial is easily accessible and holds within its boundaries the somber history of the Holocaust. The exact address is Ofiar Faszyzmu 12, 32-600 Brzezinka, Poland.

Are guided tours available for Auschwitz?

Yes, you can book a guided tour of Auschwitz-Birkenau online.

What was the largest concentration camp?

Auschwitz II-Birkenau was the biggest Nazi concentration camp.