Auschwitz was the most streamlined mass killing center ever created. Auschwitz was the principal and most notorious of the 6 concentration and extermination camps established by Nazi Germany to implement its “Final Solution” policy. Located near the town of Oswiecim (Auschwitz is the German name for Oswiecim) in southern Poland, the Auschwitz complex was divided in 3 major camps: “Auschwitz I” (Main or Prison camp, established in 1940, This camp housed prisoners, was the location of medical experiments and the site of Block 11-a place of severe torture and the Black Wall-a place of execution). “Auschwitz II” (or Birkenau, Extermination camp, established in 1941, was the real killing center of the Auschwitz death camp) and “Auschwitz III” (or Monowitz, established in 1942, housing for the forced laborers). It also had over 40 sub-camps and were known collectively as Auschwitz III. Historians and analysts estimate the number of people murdered at Auschwitz somewhere between 2.1 million-4 million, of whom the vast majority were Jews, but also political prisoners, Roma (gypsies), homosexuals and others deemed impure or harmful to the Nazi regime. Auschwitz operated between 1941 and 1945 and was the site of the systematic murder.
At the entrance has the infamous sign that stated “Arbeit Macht Frei” (“work makes one free”). These words were to promote the false hope that hard work by the prisoners would result in their freedom. This camp could hold 14,000 prisoners at one time.The gas chamber/crematorium at Auschwitz I could kill 700 people at a time but the majority of the mass murdering occurred in Auschwitz II’s 4 main gas chambers (II , III, IV and V), each of which had its own crematorium. Each of these gas chambers could murder about 6,000 people a day. In chambers II and III, the killings took place in underground rooms, and the corpses were carried to the 5 ovens by an electrically operated lift. In IV and V the gas chambers and ovens were on the same level, but the ovens were so poorly built and had to be abandoned. The corpses were finally burned outside. When a train carrying prisoners arrived, selections would be conducted on the railroad platform, or ramp. They were told to leave all their belongings on board and were divided in to 2 groups. Most women including pregnant, children, older men, and those that looked unfit or unhealthy were sent to this group, while most young men and others that looked strong enough to do hard labor were sent to the other. The people who were in the first group, which was the majority of those who arrived at Auschwitz, were never told that they had been chosen for death. In most cases, 70-75% of each transport was sent to immediate death. These people were not entered in the camp records; they received no serial numbers and were not registered, and this is why it is possible only to estimate the total number of victims. They were told they had to take showers in order to delouse every individual. The prisoners were escorted into large rooms and forced to take off their clothes. Few that questioned the authorities were taken away from the others and shot. Once bare, the victims were told to go into the showers (there were even fake shower heads on the walls). The doors were then closed and sealed tight, a Nazi would pour Zyklon-B pellets into an opening which would turn into poison gas once it contacted air. There were many different types of poisons tested, including carbon monoxide, but in the end Zyklon B was found to be the fastest and most reliable form of death. It would take 20 minutes to kill everyone and another 2 days to burn the bodies. Before the bodies were burned the victim’s hair was cut off and fillings and false teeth made of precious metals were removed. The hair was used for making haircloth, and the metals were melted into bars and sent to Berlin.
Those that had been sent to the second group during the selection process went through a dehumanizing process that turned them into camp prisoners. Those deemed fit enough for slave labor were then immediately registered, tattooed with a serial number, undressed, deloused, had their body hair shaven off, showered while their clothes were disinfected and transferred to one of Auschwitz’s camps for forced labour. Nearly 405,000 were given prisoner status and serial numbers. Of these about 340,000 perished through executions, beatings, starvation, sickness and criminal medical experiments. Prisoners working in the labour camp were always subject to summary execution. The principal sites in Auschwitz I where executions were carried out, were in the cells of Block 11 and the courtyard between Blocks 10 and 11 (“The Death Wall”). Men and women who tried to escape, organise mutinies, or maintain contact with the outside world were held here, before being brutally interrogated and usually sentenced to death by shooting. Outside of Block 11 stands a 3 meter post, with a hook near the top. Victims of this unspeakable torture had their arms tied behind their back, were lifted up, and hung onto the hook by their bonds, their arms breaking at the joints. Some died of shock and pain there on the post; others did not. The problem with the latter case was that you were no longer fit to work and therefore of no use to your captors, and were either sent to the hospital for experiments, sent to the gas chamber, or simply executed via a shot of acid (Phenol injections), injected directly into your heart. The Dark Cell was a chamber where people were punished for violating camp regulations, including sentenced to death by starvation. The prisoners were forced to stay in the “Standing Cell“, a phonebooth-sized jail cell where 4 people at a time were forced to stand all night long, before being sent out for a 12 hour work shift and then being returned to the cell to stand for another night. Sitting or sleep was impossible, and most people died of exhaustion, where the body would remain, all night, leaning limply against any surviving cellmates. Inside the camp, many of the prisoners were forced to complete horrific acts in order to save their own live.
When the Nazis realized that the Russians were successfully pushing their way toward Germany on November 26, 1944, they decided to start destroying evidence of their atrocities at Auschwitz. The destruction of the crematoria and the human ashes were buried in huge pits and covered with grass. Approximately 56,000 prisoners were marched out of Auschwitz concentration camp and its sub-camps from January 17-21, 1945, in columns guarded by heavily armed escorts. Many of the prisoners died during this tragic evacuation, which is known as the “Death March.” On January 27, 1945, the Russians reached Auschwitz. When the Russians entered the camp, they found the 7,650 prisoners who had been left behind, of which about 20% died of disease and/or starvation afterwards. They also found 7 tons of human hair, human teeth, from which gold fillings had been extracted, tens of thousands of cloths, shoes, broken spectacles and Suitcases, all carefully labelled by people who had no idea what would happen to them. The Polish government voted to turn this place into a museum so that no one would forget about the events that took place here. On July 2, 1947 act of the Polish parliament established the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum on the grounds of the 2 extant parts of the camp, Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau. The fortified walls, barbed wire, railway sidings, platforms, barracks, gallows, gas chambers and crematoria show clearly how the Holocaust, as well as the Nazi German policy of mass murder and forced labour took place. The collections at the site preserve the evidence of those who were premeditatedly murdered, as well as presenting the systematic mechanism by which this was done. The personal items in the collections are testimony to the lives of the victims before they were brought to the extermination camps, as well as to the cynical use of their possessions and remains. The site and its landscape has high levels of authenticity and integrity since the original evidence has been carefully conserved without any unnecessary restoration. But some parts of them have been reconstructed after war-time damage. The Camp is inscribed to the UNESCO Global Heritage List in 1979.
by:Let’s Explore & Learn