Auschwitz concentration camp

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The Holocaust
Early elements
Racial policy  Nazi eugenics  Nuremberg Laws  Euthanasia  Concentration camps };"> (list)


Jews in Nazi Germany, 1933 to 1939

Pogroms: Kristallnacht  Iaşi  Jedwabne  Lwów  Bucharest

Ghettos: Warsaw  Łódź  Lwów  Kraków  Theresienstadt  Kovno

Einsatzgruppen: Babi Yar  Rumbula  Paneriai  Odessa

"Final Solution": Wannsee  Aktion Reinhard

Death camps: Auschwitz  Belzec  Chełmno  Majdanek  Treblinka  Sobibór  Jasenovac   Warsaw

Resistance: Jewish partisans
Ghetto uprisings (Warsaw)

End of World War II: Death marches  Berihah  Displaced persons

Other victims

East Slavs  Poles  Serbs  Roma  Homosexuals  Jehovah's Witnesses

Responsible parties

Nazi Germany: Hitler  Eichmann  Heydrich  Himmler  SS  Gestapo  SA


Aftermath: Nuremberg Trials  Denazification

Survivors  Victims  Rescuers
The Destruction of the European Jews
Phases of the Holocaust
Functionalism vs. intentionalism
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Auschwitz, Konzentrationslager Auschwitz-Birkenau, KL Auschwitz, Nazi German Concentration Camp of Auschwitz was the largest of the Nazi German extermination camps, along with a number of concentration camps, comprising three main camps and 40 to 50 sub-camps. Auschwitz is the German name for the nearby town of Oświęcim, situated about 60 kilometers (37 miles) west of Kraków in southern Poland. Beginning in 1940, Nazi Germany built several concentration camps and an extermination camp in the area, which at the time was under German occupation. The Auschwitz camps were a major element in the perpetration of the Holocaust; at least 1.1 million people were killed there, of whom over 90% were Jews. The three main camps were:

  • Auschwitz I, the original concentration camp which served as the administrative center for the whole complex, and was the site of the deaths of roughly 70,000 people, mostly Poles and Soviet prisoners of war.
  • Auschwitz II (Birkenau), an extermination camp, where at least 1.1 million Jewish people, 75,000 Polish people, and some 19,000 Roma (gypsies) were killed.
  • Auschwitz III (Monowitz), which served as a labor camp for the Buna-Werke factory of the IG Farben concern.

See list of subcamps of Auschwitz for others. The exact number of people killed in the camps is not known, but most modern estimates are around 1.1-1.6 million. [1] Like all Nazi concentration camps, the Auschwitz camps were operated by Heinrich Himmler's SS. The commandants of the camp were the SS-Obersturmbannführers Rudolf Höß (often written "Hoess") until the summer of 1943, and later Arthur Liebehenschel and Richard Baer. Höß provided a detailed description of the camp's workings during his interrogations after the war and also in his autobiography. He was hanged in 1947 in front of the entrance to the crematorium of Auschwitz I. Chief of the women's field was handled by Johanna Langefeld, Maria Mandel, and Elisabeth Volkenrath. About 700 prisoners attempted to escape from the Auschwitz camps during the years of their operation, with about 300 attempts successful. A common punishment for escape attempts was death by starvation; the families of successful escapees were sometimes arrested and interned in Auschwitz and prominently displayed to deter others. If someone did manage to escape, the SS would kill ten random people from the prisoner's block. This was a quite persuasive method to discourage escape attempts.


[edit] The camp

[edit] Auschwitz I

Image:Auschwitz gate brama 1940s.jpg
Entrance to Auschwitz I, 1941. The motto over the gate, "Arbeit macht frei," translates as: "Work makes one free."
Auschwitz in winter.

Auschwitz I served as the administrative center for the whole complex. It was founded on May 20, 1940, on the basis of an old Polish brick army barracks. A group of 728 Polish political prisoners from Tarnów became the first residents of Auschwitz on June 14 that year. The camp was initially used for interning Polish intellectuals and resistance movement members, then also for Soviet Prisoners of War. Common German criminals, "anti-social elements" and 48 German homosexuals were also imprisoned there. Jews were sent to the camp as well, beginning with the very first shipment (from Tarnów). At any time, the camp held between 13,000 and 16,000 inmates; in 1942 the number reached 20,000. The entrance to Auschwitz I was - and still is - marked with the sign "Arbeit Macht Frei", or "work (will) make (you) free." The camp's prisoners who left the camp during the day for construction or farm labour were made to march through the gate to the sounds of an orchestra. Contrary to what is depicted in several films, the majority of the Jews were imprisoned in the Auschwitz II camp, and did not pass under this sign. The SS selected some prisoners, often German criminals, as specially privileged supervisors of the other inmates (so-called: kapo). The various classes of prisoners were distinguishable by special marks on their clothes; Jews were generally treated the worst. All inmates had to work in the associated arms factories; except Sundays, which were reserved for cleaning and showering and there were no work assignments. The harsh work requirements, combined with poor nutrition and hygiene, led to high death rates among the prisoners. Block 11 of Auschwitz (the original standing cells and such were block 13) was the "prison within the prison", where violaters of the numerous rules were punished. Some prisoners were made to spend the nights in "standing-cells". These cells were about 1.5 metres square, and four men would be placed in them; they could do nothing but stand, and were forced during the day to work with the other prisoners. In the basement were located the "starvation cells"; prisoners incarcerated here were given neither food nor water until they were dead. Also in the basement were the "dark cells"; these cells had only a very tiny window, and a solid door. Prisoners placed in these cells would gradually suffocate as they used up all of the oxygen in the air; sometimes the SS would light a candle in the cell to use up the oxygen more quickly. Many were subjected to hanging with their hands behind their backs, thus dislocating their shoulder joints for hours, even days. The execution yard is between block 10 and 11. In this area prisoners who were thought to merit individual treatment received it. Some were shot, against a reinforced wall which still exists; others suffered a more lingering death by being suspended from hooks set in 2 wooden posts, which also still exist.

Image:Auschwitz I Entrance.jpg
Entrance to Auschwitz I.

In September 1941, the SS conducted poison gas tests in block 11, killing 850 Poles and Russians using cyanide. The first experiment took place on 3 September 1941, and killed 600 Soviet POWs. The substance producing the highly lethal cyanide gas was sold under the trade name Zyklon B, originally for use as a pesticide used to kill lice. The tests were deemed successful, and a gas chamber and crematorium were constructed by converting a bunker. This gas chamber operated from 1941 to 1942, during which time some 60,000 people were killed therein; it was then converted into an air-raid shelter for the use of the SS. This gas chamber still exists, together with the associated crematorium, which was reconstructed after the war using the original components. The first women arrived in the camp on March 26 1942. From April 1943 to May 1944, the gynecologist Prof. Dr. Carl Clauberg conducted sterilization experiments on Jewish women in block 10 of Auschwitz I, with the aim of developing a simple injection method to be used on the Slavic people. These experiments consisted largely of determining the effects of the injection of caustic chemicals into the uterus. This was extremely painful and many died during and shortly after. Dr. Josef Mengele, who is well known for his experiments on twins and dwarfs in the same complex, was the camp "doctor". He regularly performed gruesome experiments such as castration without anesthetics. Prisoners in the camp hospital who were not quick to recover were regularly killed by a lethal injection of phenol. The camp brothel, established in the summer of 1943 on Himmler's order, was located in block 24 and was used to reward privileged prisoners. (The existence of a brothel has not been confirmed by female survivors of the camp.) It was staffed by women specifically selected for the purpose, and by some volunteers from the female prisoners, most of whom were raped by the Nazis.

[edit] Auschwitz II (Birkenau)

Image:Birkenau gate.JPG
Entrance to Auschwitz II (Birkenau), the main extermination camp, in 2006.
Image:Selection Birkenau ramp.jpg
A selection at the Birkenau ramp, 1944; main entrance is visible in background.

Auschwitz II (Birkenau) is the camp that many people know simply as "Auschwitz". It was the site of imprisonment of hundreds of thousands, and of the killing of over one million people, mainly Jews, but also large numbers of Poles, Gypsies, and homosexuals. The Nazis established Auschwitz in April 1940 under the direction of Heinrich Himmler, chief of the SS (Schutzstaffel, armed forces of the Nazi Party NSDAP) and German police and Reich Minister of the Interior. The camp at Auschwitz originally housed political prisoners from occupied Poland and from concentration camps within Germany. Construction of nearby Birkenau (in Polish, Brzezinka), also known as Auschwitz II, began in October 1941, and a historic picture of that construction can be found here. Birkenau had four gas chambers, designed to resemble showers, and four crematoria, used to incinerate bodies. Approximately 40 more satellite camps were established around Auschwitz. These were forced labor camps and were known collectively as Auschwitz III. The first one was built at Monowitz and held Poles who had been forcibly evacuated from their hometowns by the Nazis. The inmates of Monowitz were forced to work in the chemical works of I G Farben. Prisoners were transported from all over Nazi-occupied Europe by rail, arriving at Auschwitz-Birkenau in daily convoys. Arrivals at the complex were separated into four groups. One group, about three-quarters of the total, went to the gas chambers of Auschwitz-Birkenau within a few hours; they included all children, all women with children, all the elderly, and all those who appeared on brief and superficial inspection by an SS doctor not to be fully fit. In the Auschwitz Birkenau camp more than 20,000 people could be gassed and cremated each day. At Birkenau, the Nazis used a cyanide gas called Zyklon-B, which was manufactured by a pest-control company. A second group of prisoners were used as slave labor at industrial factories for such companies as I. G. Farben and Krupp. At the Auschwitz complex 405,000 prisoners were recorded as slaves between 1940 and 1945. Of these about 340,000 perished through executions, beatings, starvation, and sickness. Some prisoners survived through the help of German industrialist Oskar Schindler, who saved about 1,000 Polish Jews by diverting them from Auschwitz to work for him, first in his factory near Kraków and later at a factory in what is now the Czech Republic. A third group, mostly twins and dwarfs, underwent medical experiments at the hands of doctors such as Josef Mengele, who was also known as the “Angel of Death.” The fourth group was composed of women who were selected to work in "Canada", the part of Birkenau where prisoners' belongings were sorted for use by Germans. The name "Canada" was very cynically chosen. In Poland it was - and is still - used as an expression used when viewing, for example, a valuable and fine gift. The expression comes from the time when Polish emigrants were sending gifts home from Canada.

The camp was staffed partly by prisoners, some of whom were selected to be kapos (orderlies) and sonderkommandos (workers at the crematoria). The kapos were responsible for keeping order in the barrack huts; the sonderkommando prepared new arrivals for gassing (ordering them to remove their clothing and surrender their personal possessions) and transferred corpses from the gas chambers to the furnaces, having first pulled out any gold that the victims might have had in their teeth. Members of these groups were killed periodically. The kapos and sonderkommandos were supervised by members of the SS; altogether 6,000 SS members worked at Auschwitz. By 1943 resistance organizations had developed in the camp. These organizations helped a few prisoners escape; these escapees took with them news of exterminations, such as the killing of hundreds of thousands of Jews transported from Hungary between May and July 1944. In October 1944 a group of sonderkommandos destroyed one of the crematoria at Birkenau. They and their accomplices, a group of women from the Monowitz labor camp, were all put to death. It was also not uncommon if one prisoner escaped, selected persons in the escapee's block were killed. When the Soviet army liberated Auschwitz on January 27 1945, they found about 7,600 survivors abandoned there. More than 58,000 prisoners had already been evacuated by the Nazis and sent on a final death march to Germany. In 1947, in remembrance of the victims, Poland founded a museum at the site of the Auschwitz concentration camp. By 1994, some 22 million visitors—700,000 annually—had passed through the iron gate crowned with the cynical motto, "Arbeit macht frei" ("Work makes one free").

[edit] Auschwitz III and satellite camps

Also see List of subcamps of Auschwitz

The surrounding work camps were closely connected to German industry and were associated with arms factories, foundries and mines. The largest work camp was Auschwitz III Monowitz, named after the Polish village of Monowice. Starting operations in May 1942, it was associated with the synthetic rubber and liquid fuel plant Buna-Werke owned by IG Farben. In regular intervals, doctors from Auschwitz II would visit the work camps and select the weak and sick for the gas chambers of Birkenau. The largest subcamps were built at Trzebinia, Blechhammer and Althammer. Female subcamps were constructed at Budy , Plawy, Zabrze, Gleiwitz I, II, III, Rajsko and at Lichtenwerden (now Světlá). The whole Auschwitz complex of camps was liberated in early 1945 by the advancing Russian army.

[edit] Knowledge of the Allies

For more details on this topic, see Auschwitz bombing debate.
Image:May311944 auschwitz.jpg
Photograph of Birkenau, taken May 31, 1944, by a De Havilland Mosquito plane of the South African Air Force, sent to photograph the fuel factory at nearby Monowitz. The photographic analysts missed the significance of the photograph; it was identified only in the late 1970s and analyzed by the CIA in 1978. Smoke can be seen issuing from Crematorium V, indicating that a group of prisoners had recently been gassed.

Some information regarding Auschwitz reached the Allies during 1941-1944, such as the reports of Witold Pilecki and Jerzy Tabeau, but the claims of mass killings were generally dismissed as exaggerations. This changed with receipt of the very detailed report of two escaped prisoners, Rudolf Vrba and Alfred Wetzler, which finally convinced most Allied leaders of the truth about Auschwitz in the middle of 1944. Detailed air reconnaissance photographs of the camp were taken accidentally during 1944 by aircraft seeking to photograph nearby military-industrial targets, but no effort was made to analyse them. (In fact, it was not until the 1970s that these photographs of Auschwitz were looked at carefully.) Starting with a plea from the Slovakian rabbi Weissmandl in May 1944, there was a growing campaign to convince the Allies to bomb Auschwitz or the railway lines leading to it. At one point Winston Churchill ordered that such a plan be prepared, but he was told that bombing the camp would most likely kill prisoners without disrupting the killing operation, and that bombing the railway lines was not technically feasible. Later several nearby military targets were bombed. One bomb accidentally fell into the camp and killed some prisoners. The debate over what could have been done, or what should have been attempted even if success was unlikely, has continued heatedly ever since.

[edit] Evacuation and liberation

The gas chambers of Birkenau were blown up by the Germans in November 1944 in an attempt to hide their crimes from the advancing Soviet troops. On January 17, 1945 Nazi personnel started to evacuate the facility; most of the prisoners were marched West. Those too weak or sick to walk were left behind; about 7,500 prisoners were liberated by the 322nd Infantry unit of the Red Army on January 27, 1945.

[edit] Death toll

The exact number of victims at Auschwitz is impossible to fix with certainty. Since the Nazis destroyed a number of records, immediate efforts to count the dead depended on the testimony of witnesses and the defendants on trial at Nuremberg. Nazi Rudolf Höß said that between 2.5 and 3 million had been killed, while Adolf Eichmann gave a figure of 2 million.[2] The Auschwitz Death Book, recently uncovered in Soviet archives, is an example of logged records, but other examples of collected figures are scarce. Communist Soviet and Polish authorities maintained a figure of 4 million, which was used on the original Auschwitz memorial.[3] Reactions to this count were mixed, but some historians questioned the number approved by the Communist regime.[4][5] In 1983, French scholar George Wellers was one of the first to use Nazi data on deportations to estimate the number killed at Auschwitz, arriving at 1.613 million dead, including 1.44 million Jews and 146,000 Poles. A larger study started around the same time by Franciszek Piper used time tables of train arrivals combined with deportation records to calculate 1.1 million Jewish deaths and 140,000-150,000 Polish victims, along with 23,000 Roma & Sinti (Gypsies). This number has met with "significant, though not complete" agreement among scholars. Additionally, untold thousands of homosexuals were also killed at Auschwitz.

[edit] Well-known Inmates/Victims

[edit] After the war

After the war, the camp served through most of 1945 as an NKVD prison, then for several years remained in a state of disrepair. The Buna Werke were taken over by the Polish government and became the foundation for the region's chemical industry. The Polish government then decided to restore Auschwitz I and turn it into a museum honouring the victims of Nazism; Auschwitz II, where buildings were prone to decay, was preserved but not restored. Today, the Auschwitz I museum site combines elements from several periods into a single complex: for example the gas chamber at Auschwitz I (which did not exist by the war's end) was restored and the fence was moved (because of building being done after the war but before the establishment of the museum). However, in most cases the departure from the historical truth is minor, and is clearly labelled. The museum contains very large numbers of men's, women's and children's shoes taken from their victims; also suitcases, which the deportees were encouraged to bring with them, and many household utensils. One display case, some 30 metres long, is wholly filled with human hair which the Nazis gathered from the people they slaughtered.

Auschwitz II and the remains of the gas chambers there are also open to the public. The Auschwitz concentration camp is part of the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites. The ashes of the victims of the SS were scattered between the huts, and the entire area is seen as a grave site. In 1979, the newly elected Polish Pope John Paul II celebrated Mass on the grounds of Auschwitz II to some 500,000 people. After the pope had announced that Edith Stein would be beatified, some Catholics erected a cross near bunker 2 of Auschwitz II where she had been gassed. A short while later, a Star of David appeared at the site, leading to a proliferation of religious symbols there; eventually they were removed. Carmelite nuns opened a convent near Auschwitz I in 1984. After some Jewish groups called for the removal of the convent, representatives of the Catholic Church agreed in 1987. One year later the Carmelites erected the 8 metre (26 ft) tall cross from the 1979 mass near their site, just outside block 11 and barely visible from within the camp. This led to protests by Jewish groups, who said that mostly Jews were killed at Auschwitz and demanded that religious symbols be kept away from the site. Some Catholics have claimed that the people killed in Auschwitz I were mainly Polish Catholics. The Catholic Church told the Carmelites to move by 1989, but they stayed on until 1993, leaving the large cross behind. In 1998, after further calls to remove the cross, some 300 smaller crosses were erected by local activists near the large one, leading to further protests and heated exchanges. Following an agreement between the Polish Catholic Church and the Polish government, the smaller crosses were removed in 1999 but the large papal one remains. See Auschwitz cross for more details. In 1996, Germany made 27 January, the day of the liberation of Auschwitz, the official day for the commemoration of the victims of 'National Socialism'. The European Parliament marked the anniversary of the camp's liberation in 2005 with a minute of silence and the passage of this resolution:

"27 January 2005, the sixtieth anniversary of the liberation of Nazi Germany's death camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau, where a combined total of up to 1.5 million Jews, Roma, Poles, Russians and prisoners of various other nationalities, were murdered, is not only a major occasion for European citizens to remember and condemn the enormous horror and tragedy of the Holocaust, but also for addressing the disturbing rise in anti-semitism, and especially anti‑semitic incidents, in Europe, and for learning anew the wider lessons about the dangers of victimising people on the basis of race, ethnic origin, religion, social classification, politics or sexual orientation."

[edit] Other controversies

For many years, a memorial plaque placed at the camp by the Soviet authorities stated that 4 million people had been murdered at Auschwitz. The Polish communist government also supported this figure. In the west, this figure was accepted, but some historians had their doubts.[6][7] After the collapse of the Communist government in 1989, the plaque was removed and the official death toll given as 1.1 million. Holocaust deniers have attempted to use this change as propaganda, in the words of Nizkor: "Deniers often use the 'Four Million Variant' as a stepping stone to leap from an apparent contradiction to the idea that the Holocaust was a hoax, again perpetrated by a conspiracy. They hope to discredit historians by making them seem inconsistent. If they can't keep their numbers straight, their reasoning goes, how can we say that their evidence for the Holocaust is credible? One must wonder which historians they speak of, as most have been remarkably consistent in their estimates of a million or so dead. In short, all of the denier's blustering about the 'Four Million Variant' is a specious attempt to envelope the reader into their web of deceit, and it can be discarded after the most rudimentary examination of published histories."<ref>Nizkor, The Auschwitz Gambit: The Four Million Variant</ref> The Auschwitz Death Book is used by deniers for the same purpose; since this single source contains an elaborate list of victim names, deniers have come to regard it as conclusive, although this fails to match testimony and the findings of reputable Holocaust historians.

Recently the Polish media and the foreign ministry of Poland have voiced objections to the use of the expression "Polish death camp" in relation to Auschwitz, as they feel that phrase might misleadingly suggest that Poles (rather than Germans) perpetrated the Holocaust. Most media outlets now show awareness of the offence this may cause, and try to avoid using such expressions (or issue an apology after using them, see for example the 2005 note in The Guardian). On April 1 2006, a Polish Culture Ministry spokesman said that the government requested that UNESCO change the name from "Auschwitz Concentration Camp" to "Former Nazi German Concentration Camp Auschwitz-Birkenau" to emphasize that the camp was run by German Nazis and not by Poles. <ref>Poland seeks to change official name of Auschwitz death camp, Haaretz, 2 April 2006</ref> On July 12 2006, UNESCO deferred a decision on Poland's request, pending further consultation. <ref> Clarification regarding the decision on Auschwitz Concentration Camp</ref>

The Polish film directors Andrzej Munk and Andrzej Wajda were both given permission to film in Auschwitz for the films Pasażerka and Krajobraz Po Bitwie respectively. The TV-miniseries War and Remembrance also shot the Holocaust scenes in Auschwitz. However, permission was denied to Steven Spielberg for Schindler's List. Subsequently, a "mirror" camp was constructed outside the infamous archway for the scene where the train arrives carrying the women Schindler was trying to save.

In February 2006, Poland refused to grant visas to Iranian researchers who were planning to visit Auschwitz.<ref>Poland to Bar Iranian Team from Auschwitz, Payvand, 18 February 2006</ref>. Polish Foreign Minister Stefan Meller said his country should stop Iran from investigating the scale of the Holocaust, which Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has dismissed as false. In Poland "public and contradicting facts" holocaust denial is a crime punished by a sentence of up to 3 years in prison (article 55, Dz.U. 1998 nr 155 poz. 1016).

[edit] Notes

<references />

[edit] See also

[edit] Further reading

  • Gilbert, Martin. Auschwitz and the Allies. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1981. Photographs, maps. ISBN 0-03-057058-1
  • Doyle, John. The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. Great Britain: David Fickling Books, 2006.

[edit] External links

(Children of Auschwitz Nazi Deadly Lab Experiments Survivors) Terre Haute, IN. Founded by Mengele Twin, Eva Korr

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Auschwitz concentration camp

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