Auschwitz Facts | Know More About Auschwitz Concentration Camp
The Holocaust is marked as one of the darkest eras of human history. Almost eight decades have passed since the end of the Holocaust, but the horrors experienced by its victims continue to haunt many. The kind of cruelty meted out to the prisoners at Auschwitz Concentration Camp, makes it impossible for one to talk about the Holocaust without talking about the camp. The largest of the concentration camps, Auschwitz saw more than 1 million people being killed here. While one may never fully understand the experiences of those who were forced to walk through those gates, it is important to learn about it so that history may never repeat itself. Read on to know more about some facts about Auschwitz, its prisoners, and more.
Top Auschwitz Facts
First mass transport took place in 1940
The first mass transport to Auschwitz Concentration Camp took place on 14 June 1940. The prisoners included 728 Polish male political prisoners, who had been dubbed ‘ political prisoners’ and members of the Polish resistance. They were given serial numbers 31 to 758. Numbers 1 through 30 were given to a group of German criminals who were brought to Auschwitz from Sachsenhausen on 20 May.
The first mass transport of Jews to the camp took place in March 1942, from the Poprad transit camp in the Slovak state.
First gassing took place in 1941
The first gassing at Auschwitz took place in early September 1941. Around 850 inmates were killed with Zyklon B in the basement of block 11 in Auschwitz I. The victims were Soviet prisoners of war and sick Polish inmates. To keep the victims calm, they were told they were to undergo disinfection and de-lousing. The unsuspecting prisoners would undress before they would be led to the gas chamber. After its decommissioning, the building was converted to a storage facility and later, an SS air-raid shelter. The gas chamber and crematorium were reconstructed after the war.
The Sonderkommandos discarded the bodies
Although the SS oversaw the killings at each gas chamber, they left the dirty work to a group of prisoners called the Sonderkommandos. Mostly Jews, they were tasked with guiding the victims into the gas chambers. Afterward, they would take the bodies, remove jewelry, hair, gold from their teeth, and other belongings before taking the bodies for cremation. Because they were witnesses to the mass murder, they lived separately from the other prisoners. Their life expectancy was short. They were regularly killed and replaced. Many, unable to cope with their duties, killed themselves.
An uprising broke out in the camp in 1944
On 7 October 1944, members of Sonderkommando staged an uprising. They attacked the SS with stones and hammers, killing three of them, and set crematorium IV on fire with rags soaked in oil that they had hidden. The Sonderkommando at crematorium II, who believed that a camp uprising had begun threw their kapo into a furnace. After escaping through a fence using wire cutters, they managed to reach Rajsko, where they hid in the granary of an Auschwitz satellite camp. The SS pursued and killed them by setting the granary on fire. By the time the rebellion was suppressed, 212 members of the Sonderkommando were still alive and 451 had been killed.
The B in ‘Arbeit macht frei’ is upside-down
The German phrase, meaning, "Work sets you free" appears at the entrance of Auschwitz and other concentration camps. The Auschwitz I sign was made by prisoner-laborers. When they were ordered to make the inscription, as an act of defiance, they made an upside-down B in the word ‘Arbeit’. The sign over the Auschwitz I gate was stolen in December 2009. It was later recovered by authorities in three pieces. Anders Högström, a Swedish neo-Nazi, and two Polish neo-Nazi men were jailed for the theft. The original sign is now in storage at the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum. A replica now hangs over the gate.
Over 800 prisoners tried to escape Auschwitz
Tadeusz Wiejowski, a Polish shoemaker, was the first person to escape the Auschwitz concentration camp. In 1941 he was recaptured and committed to the Jasło prison camp, where he was executed. After Wiejowski, according to Polish historian Henryk Świebocki, at least 802 prisoners (757 men and 45 women) tried to escape from the camp. Only 144 were successful, 327 were caught, and the fate of 331 is unknown. Rudolf Vrba and Alfréd Wetzler, who escaped to Slovakia, carrying detailed information to the Slovak Jewish Council about the gas chambers, was instrumental in putting a halt to the deportation of Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz.
Canada, the land of great riches
The belongings of deportees were confiscated and sorted in an area of the camp called "Kanada" (Canada). The prisoners named it so as they thought of Canada as a land of wealth. The possessions would be sent back to Germany. Some were stolen by SS guards. Mostly women inmates worked here. They had a few privileges such as growing their hair out or being able to steal food from the belongings they sorted through. Relationships between German guards and women prisoners were against SS rules, but sometimes such relationships developed. An SS guard Franz Wunsch helped Helena Citronova and her sister escape the gas chambers because he was besotted with her. Although she did not return his feelings, she testified on his behalf at his war crimes trial.
The camp saw 1.3 million victims
It is estimated that at least 1.3 million people were deported to the Auschwitz concentration camp between 1940 and 1945. Of them, approximately. 1.1 million people, including 1 million Jews, were killed. An estimated 70,000 to 80,000 Poles, 21,000 Romas, 15,000 Soviet prisoners of war, and around 10,000 other individuals perished at the camps. The estimate is based on a by Polish historian Franciszek Piper, who used timetables of train arrivals combined with deportation records to calculate that, of the 1.3 million sent to the camp, 1,082,000 had died there. This figure was rounded to 1.1 million.
Medical experimentation was common
Many prisoners were used as human guinea pigs for medical experimentation. Dr. Josef Mengele dubbed the "Angel of Death," focused much of his experiments on twins and dwarfs. One of the most notorious experiments included injecting dye into the eyes of the inmates to see if they would change colors. Forced sterilization, the use of toxic substances, starvation, electroshocks, and uterine injections were some of the barbaric experiments performed. The experiments were carried out at Block 10, known as the “Krankenbau” or hospital barrack. Many died or developed severe health problems during these experiments.
7,000 inmates were liberated
Towards the end of 1944, Auschwitz commandants began destroying evidence of the horrors that took place at the concentration camps. On 18 January 1945, Engelbert Marketsch, a German criminal transferred from Mauthausen, became the last prisoner to be assigned a serial number in Auschwitz (number 202499). 60,000 detainees, accompanied by Nazi guards, were forced to march to the Polish towns. During the marches, which came to be known as the death marches, the SS shot anyone who lagged behind. 15,000 Jewish prisoners who made it to Bergen-Belsen were liberated by the British on 15 April 1945. Around 7,000 inmates, who were too sick to move, had been left behind at Auschwitz and were liberated by the army.