Auschwitz History | Understanding the Systemic Destruction & Tracing the Roots of the Holocaust
Auschwitz Birkenau was the largest Nazi concentration camp during World War II, where millions of people, mostly Jews, died due to inhumane living conditions, torture, and medical experiments. Many of them were systematically murdered in gas chambers. The camp is divided into two sections, Auschwitz I, and Auschwitz II-Birkenau, and serves as a powerful reminder of the atrocities committed during the Holocaust.
History of Auschwitz Explained
Auschwitz Birkenau Established
Auschwitz I became operational as a concentration camp for political prisoners. Initially, the camp was intended to hold Polish prisoners, but it was later expanded to include other groups deemed ‘enemies of the state’. These included Soviet prisoners of war, Roma, homosexuals, and others who were considered a threat to the Nazi regime.
Auschwitz Birkenau II Established
Construction of Auschwitz II-Birkenau began. This expansion was part of the Nazis' plan to establish a larger, more efficient killing center. Birkenau was designed to hold up to 100,000 prisoners and had several gas chambers and crematoria.
Mass Deportation Began
The arrival of thousands of Jews marked the beginning of the systematic extermination of Jews at Auschwitz Birkenau. The Nazis used Zyklon B gas to kill victims in the gas chambers, which were disguised as shower rooms. The victims passed away within minutes, after which, they were cremated.
Auschwitz Became a Major Concentration Camp
By this point, Auschwitz Birkenau had become the largest and deadliest concentration camp in the Nazi system. Many Jews were transported to Auschwitz from other countries, including France, Belgium, and the Netherlands.
Many Hungarian Jews Were Deported
Several Hungarian Jews were deported to Auschwitz Birkenau, and the gas chambers were operating at full capacity. In May and June of 1944, more than 400,000 Hungarian Jews were transported to Auschwitz Birkenau, where most were immediately sent to the gas chambers. Some were used as forced laborers, but many died of starvation or disease.
Sonderkommando Rebellion Took Place
The Sonderkommandos were Jewish prisoners who were forced to work in gas chambers and crematoria. In October 1944, they staged a rebellion and blew up one of the crematoria. Most of the rebels were killed, but the rebellion inspired others to resist the Nazis in the final months of the war.
Soviet Army Liberated Auschwitz
The Soviet Army arrived at Auschwitz Birkenau on January 27, 1945. They found more than 7000 prisoners who were sick, malnourished, and dying. Many were too weak to leave the camp and died in the weeks after liberation.
Auschwitz Birkenau State Museum Established
The Polish government established the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum on the site of the former camp. The museum was established to preserve the site and educate visitors about the horrors that took place there. The museum includes exhibits on the history of the camp, the victims, and the perpetrators.
Auschwitz Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site
Auschwitz Birkenau was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. The site was recognized for its historical significance and the need to preserve it for future generations. The designation helped raise awareness about the importance of remembering the Holocaust and the need to combat genocide.
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Frequently Asked Questions About Auschwitz Birkenau’s History
The Auschwitz Birkenau camp was established in 1940, making it over 80 years old.
Visiting Auschwitz is important to pay respects to the victims of the extermination camp, learn about the history of the Holocaust, and honor the memory of those who suffered and died there.
Auschwitz Birkenau is located in the town of Oswiecim, in the southern part of Poland. It is situated about 50 kilometers west of Krakow and covers an area of approximately 200 hectares.
Some interesting facts about Auschwitz include that over 1.1 million people, mostly Jews, were murdered at Auschwitz, which was the largest Nazi concentration and extermination camp. The prisoners' belongings, including clothing, glasses, and even human hair, were harvested and used by the Nazis.
You do not need to purchase a ticket to enter Auschwitz, however, you can book fast-track Auschwitz tickets or buy a guided tour to delve deeper into the history of this concentration camp. The fast-track tickets and guided tours begin from around PLN 81.29 to PLN 116.34.
Yes, you can book Auschwitz guided tours to understand the history of this extermination camp and how the Nazis used it to kill millions of prisoners, most of whom were Jews. You can pick from tours with hotel pickup from Krakow Center or ones with private vehicle transfers and optional meals. Some tours also include a Wieliczka Salt Mine guided tour.