Auschwitz-Birkenau is the general term for the network of Nazi concentration and labor camps, established near the Polish city of Oswiecim. Together this complex was the largest of all the Nazi death camps across Europe and could hold upwards of 150,000 inmates at any given time.
Auschwitz concentration camp (German: Konzentrationslager Auschwitz (pronounced [kɔntsɛntʁaˈtsi̯oːnsˌlaːɡɐ ˈʔaʊʃvɪts] (listen)); also KL Auschwitz or KZ Auschwitz) was a complex of over 40 concentration and extermination camps operated by Nazi Germany in occupied Poland (in a portion annexed into Germany in 1939) during World War II and the Holocaust. It consisted of Auschwitz I, the main camp (Stammlager) in Oświęcim; Auschwitz II-Birkenau, a concentration and extermination camp with gas chambers; Auschwitz III-Monowitz, a labor camp for the chemical conglomerate IG Farben; and dozens of subcamps. The camps became a major site of the Nazis' final solution to the Jewish question.
|Nazi concentration and extermination camp (1940–1945)|
|Known for||The Holocaust|
|Operated by||Nazi Germany and the Schutzstaffel|
|Original use||Army barracks|
|Operational||May 1940 – January 1945|
|Inmates||Mainly Jews, Poles, Romani, Soviet prisoners of war|
|Number of inmates||At least 1.3 million|
|Killed||At least 1.1 million|
|Liberated by||Soviet Union, 27 January 1945|
|Notable inmates||Auschwitz prisoners: Adolf Burger, Edith Eger, Anne Frank, Viktor Frankl, Imre Kertész, Maximilian Kolbe, Primo Levi, Fritz Löhner-Beda, Irène Némirovsky, Witold Pilecki, Liliana Segre, Edith Stein, Simone Veil, Rudolf Vrba, Alfréd Wetzler, Elie Wiesel, Else Ury, Eddie Jaku|
|Official name||Auschwitz Birkenau, German Nazi Concentration and Extermination Camp (1940–1945)|
|Designated||1979 (3rd session)|
|Region||Europe and North America|
The initial transport of political detainees to Auschwitz consisted almost solely of Poles for whom the camp was initially established. The bulk of inmates were Polish for the first two years.
In May 1940, German criminals brought to the camp as functionaries, established the camp's reputation for sadism. Prisoners were beaten, tortured, and executed for the most trivial reasons. The first gassings—of Soviet and Polish prisoners—took place in block 11 of Auschwitz I around August 1941. Construction of Auschwitz II began the following month, and from 1942 until late 1944 freight trains delivered Jews from all over German-occupied Europe to its gas chambers. Of the 1.3 million people sent to Auschwitz, 1.1 million were murdered. The number of victims includes 960,000 Jews (865,000 of whom were gassed on arrival), 74,000 ethnic Poles, 21,000 Roma, 15,000 Soviet prisoners of war, and up to 15,000 other Europeans. Those not gassed were murdered via starvation, exhaustion, disease, individual executions, or beatings. Others were killed during medical experiments.
At least 802 prisoners tried to escape, 144 successfully, and on 7 October 1944, two Sonderkommando units, consisting of prisoners who operated the gas chambers, launched an unsuccessful uprising. Only 789 Schutzstaffel personnel (no more than 15 percent) ever stood trial after the Holocaust ended; several were executed, including camp commandant Rudolf Höss. The Allies' failure to act on early reports of atrocities by bombing the camp or its railways remains controversial.
As the Soviet Red Army approached Auschwitz in January 1945, toward the end of the war, the SS sent most of the camp's population west on a death march to camps inside Germany and Austria. Soviet troops entered the camp on 27 January 1945, a day commemorated since 2005 as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. In the decades after the war, survivors such as Primo Levi, Viktor Frankl, and Elie Wiesel wrote memoirs of their experiences, and the camp became a dominant symbol of the Holocaust. In 1947, Poland founded the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum on the site of Auschwitz I and II, and in 1979 it was named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.