What happened in Auschwitz

The concentration and extermination camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau (Auschwitz-Birkenau in German Konzentrationslager) is globally known for being where plenty of holocaust related atrocities happened. Auschwitz and Birkenau are the names of nearby villages Polish translated into German, Oświęcim [ɔɕvʲ ‘ ɛnʦim] and Brzezinka [bʐɛʑinka] Polish respectively) was a complex of several concentration camps, medical experimentation and mass extermination of prisoners built by Germany’s Nazi regime after the invasion Poland, 1939, at the beginning of World War II. It is inscribed on the World Heritage List of UNESCO since 1979.

In five years, about 1.3 million men, women and children (90% Jews) were murdered in Auschwitz, approximately 900,000 immediately at the exit of the trains that had brought the country, mostly in the gas chambers. The rest died of disease, malnutrition, abuse, sadistic experiments ‘scientific’, etc. Undoubtedly, this camp has been considered the symbol of the genocide of the Jewish people; the symbol of the Shoah (Holocaust Judaism).

Initially, Auschwitz was conceived as a quarantine station, but from the summer of 1941, Rudolf Höss -comandant the field (SS-Obersturmbannführer) – is organized by Heinrich Himmler -Maximum responsible for SS- to tell him that Hitler had entrusted him to carry out the “final solution” of the Jewish question, and that the field had played an important role expensive was a good place to train and terrestrial communications discreet enough. In the summer of 1943, Rudolf Höss was replaced by Arthur Liebehenschel and Richard Baer.

[blockquote author=”Imre Kertész speech in front of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2002″ pull=”pullleft”]From Auschwitz nothing has happened that has not abolished Auschwitz[/blockquote]

Auschwitz was a combination of industrialized mass extermination and exploitation of slave labor with the complicity of German industry.

In 1979, the concentration camp of Auschwitz was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. 

“From Auschwitz nothing has happened that has not abolished Auschwitz” – Imre Kertész speech in front of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2002

What happened in Auschwitz


Aerial view of the extermination camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau with its maximum extension; the entrance is on the bottom right, extended to the left towards the railway and landing ports; left, with T-shaped crematoria. One can see in the top left smoke third crematorium

Aerial view of the extermination camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau with its maximum extension; the entrance is on the bottom right, extended to the left towards the railway and landing ports; left, with T-shaped crematoria. One can see in the top left smoke third crematorium

There were three main camps within himself:

  • Auschwitz I, the original concentration camp which served as administrative center of the complex. In this field killed nearly 70,000 Polish intellectuals and Soviet prisoners of war.
  • Auschwitz II (Birkenau), an extermination camp where they died and about one million Jews and nearly 19,000 Gypsies.
  • Auschwitz III (Monowitz Concentration Camp), used as slave labor camp of the company IG Farben.


Since 1940, Nazi Germany built several concentration camps and extermination camp at Auschwitz, which like the rest of the concentration camps, they were managed by the Schutzstaffel (SS) directed by Heinrich Himmler. The commanders in the field were Rudolf Höß (sometimes written “Hoess”) until the summer of 1943, Artur Leibehenschel and Richard Baer.

Around 6,500 members of the SS who served at Auschwitz performing in order to achieve the final solution to the Jewish problem. Most survived the war. With the first prisoners also arrived at the first camp guards in March 1942 transferred from Ravensbrück camp in Germany. The female camp moved to Auschwitz Birkenau in October 1942, and Maria Mendel was named head of surveillance. Around 1,000 men and 200 women SS supervisors were monitoring the whole complex of Auschwitz. Of all the officials only 750 were taken to trial, almost all in relation to crimes against the Polish population. Höß gave a detailed description of how the field during the Nuremberg Trials, details that complement his autobiography. Höß was executed in 1947, opposite the entrance to the crematorium of Auschwitz I.

The industrialization of death: gas chambers and crematoria

crematorium at chernobyl | what happened

Crematorium at Auschwitz I

Like many other death camps, gas chambers were installed to produce death. In 1942, the “choice” Jews had become something common in Auschwitz. When you got a trainload of prisoners came to separate men and young women considered fit for work, children, elderly, women and a number of sick who were directly killed. To them he said they were going to get a shower and be disinfected. Actually, they drove straight to the gas chambers disguised as showers.

As the system allowed the massive elimination of human lives raised the issue of the corpses. Initially they were buried in mass graves, but the process was slow and insufficient. In the summer of 1942, the bodies, swollen by its rot, removing the land and threatening water wells nearby. October were dug to proceed incineration in foundries. Finally, the progressive installation of crematoria resolved this issue.

gas chamber at Auschwitz

The gas chambers would receive a number of technical improvements that guaranteed greater efficiency and operation, such as air systems of the gas chambers of crematorium. In June 1943, Auschwitz had a capacity incineration almost 4,800 corpses daily.

Living conditions

The living conditions were inhumane: the clothes they received which passed the first selection were rags, hours of rest were insufficient, there were no sanitary facilities (for example, in early summer 1944, 32,000 women shared one common), food was extremely poor … to hunger, cold, tiring work, overcrowding, dirt, lack of hygiene and diseases (typhoid, dysentery and a number dermatological diseases were a common occurrence) was added sadism of the SS members and subordinates chosen from the lumpen of the extermination camp.

Primo Levi (Turin, 1919-1978), chemist by profession and Auschwitz survivor, is a striking testimony of survival and death in hell of extermination camps during the years of Nazi occupation. Primo Levi explains how simple it was to succumb in this field, becoming a collapsed just was enough to obey all the commands received, not eating anything other than ranch abide by discipline labor and field. Experience has shown that in this way only rarely could last more than three months. All the “Muslims” (Levi ignores the reason why the veterans in the field designated the weak, the inept, those for selecting this term) who went to the gas chamber had the same story, or rather, had no history ; followed the slope to the bottom, naturally. Once in the field, essential for its inability, or unfortunately any trivial incident, were trampled before he could bring it; Later did not started to learn German and to discern something in the hellish tangle of laws and prohibitions but when his body was already a ruin, and no longer could save the selection or the death decay [2].

The end of Auschwitz

The withdrawal of all German war fronts, particularly against the Soviet advance, Himmler forced to consider closing the extermination camps. In autumn 1943 evacuate camps Treblinka, Sobibor and Belzec. In July 1944, the Soviets entered the field of Lublin and unveil mass murder camps.

In late 1944, only Auschwitz continued working as camp, but the end was close. On November 25, Himmler ordered to proceed to its dismantling. On 17 January 1945 destroyed the block medical field and passed last list. Count there are 31 894 and 35 118 prisoners in Auschwitz camps satellites. At the same time, staff Nazis began evacuating Auschwitz. Most of the prisoners had marched westward. Those who were too weak to walk were left behind. On January 20, a detachment of SS brakes two hundred Jews and then destroyed the buildings where the crematoria I and II. Meanwhile, industry IG Farven destroys your files. During the following days, the SS continued killing prisoners and destroying the facilities. On January 27, proceeded to destroy the last incinerating the IV. The afternoon of the same day are Soviet troops. The Auschwitz extermination camp ended his macabre existence. Around 7,500 prisoners were liberated by the Red Army on January 27, 1945.

There were only six of the thirty-five-foot warehouse. Those who were crowded men’s suits 368 820, 836 255 women, 5525 pairs of women’s shoes, large quantities of boy clothes, toothbrushes … In another unit there were seven tons of human hair. Among the Soviets found the corpses seven thousand survivors.

Since 1949, Witold Pilecki -a soldier of the Home Army (Polish resistance organization the Nazi occupation) – volunteered to be taken as a prisoner at Auschwitz and produced a considerable amount of information that took to Warsaw and from there to London. Moreover, the Allies had detailed aerial information fields since May 1944. Two prisoners escaped (Rudolph Vrba and Alfred Wetzler) had gathered precise descriptions and maps which reached the allies during summer 1944. On 13 September 1944, American bombers bombed Buna Werke factory associated with Auschwitz III, partly destroying it.

During the operation of the fields, about 700 prisoners tried to escape, 300 of which succeeded. The penalty was applied escaping death when inhaled. Generally, the families of the escapees were arrested and interned in Auschwitz to be exhibited as a warning to other prisoners. The total number of deaths at Auschwitz is still under debate, but it is estimated that a million and a million and a half people were killed.

Best known prisoners

Józef Cyrankiewicz presided over the government of the Republic of Poland between 1947 and 1952 and between 1954 and 1970. He was also President between 1970 and 1972.

Anne Frank was interned in Auschwitz-Birkenau between September and October 1944; then was transferred to Bergen-Belsen where she died of typhoid. Known for the discovery of his diary (The Diary of Anne Frank) which described his hidden life in Amsterdam.

Maximilian Kolbe, the Polish saint, was a prisoner of Auschwitz I. Was voluntary starvation instead of another prisoner in 1941.

Anita Lasker Walfisch, German cellist. It survived as a member of the Auschwitz Girls Orchestra. He was also witness to Bergen-Belsen Trial. After the war and establish asylum in Britain. He was founder of the orchestra English Chamber Orchestra. His son is the famous cellist Raphael Wallfisch.

Primo Levi, chemist by profession camp survivor. The events of the Second World War marked deeply to the point that he wrote several books. If This Is a Man and The Truce with the enfosats and saved form the trilogy Auschwitz.

Witold Pilecki, the Polish Home Army soldier, volunteered to go into Auschwitz, organized resistance to Auschwitz (Związek Organizacja Wojskowych, ZOW) and informed allies about the atrocities that took place. Then join the uprising in Warsaw.

Edith Stein, Catholic nun of Jewish origin. He died in the gas chambers of Auschwitz II.

Elie Wiesel survived Auschwitz III Monowitz its seclusion and wrote about his experiences.

Petr Ginz (1928-1944), a young editor Vedem, known by the newspaper that he wrote before his deportation, recently discovered and edited by his sister Chava Pressburger.

Auschwitz: a complex of three camps

Auschwitz I

what happened in auschwitz concentration camp

Auschwitz entrance with the inscription Arbeit Macht Frei – “work liberates”

Auschwitz I was the administrative center of the complex. It was founded on May 20, 1940, from brick barracks of the Polish army. The first members of the camp were 728 Polish political prisoners from Tarnów. Initially, the camp was used by members of the resistance and interning Polish intellectuals later brought them Soviet prisoners of war, common prisoners German antisocial elements and homosexuals. From the first moment also arrived Jewish prisoners. Generally there were between 13 and 16 thousand prisoners, reaching 20,000 in 1942.

The entrance to Auschwitz I was (and still remains) the cynical words Arbeit Macht Frei “work liberates.” The prisoners left the camp to work during the day for construction or field marching music played by an orchestra.

SS generally selected to prisoners -anomenats kapos- to supervise others. All prisoners performed work and the field except for the arms factories, Sundays were reserved for cleaning showers and assigned work. The harsh working conditions and the lack of hygiene malnutrition meant that the mortality rate among prisoners was very high.

Block 11 of Auschwitz I was the prison within the prison; there are punishments applied. Some consisted someone close several days in a room too small to settle. Some were executed, hanged or left to die of hunger.

In September 1941, the SS conducted tests in block 11 of Zyklon B gas which killed 850 Russian and Polish prisoners. The tests were considered sufficiently satisfactory and consequently built a gas chamber and crematorium. This gas chamber was used between 1941 and 1942 and was later converted into a shelter.

The first woman came to the camp on 26 March 1942. Between April 1943 and May 1944 were sterilization experiments with Jewish women in block 10 at Auschwitz I. The goal was to make a method simple functioning with a simple injection to be used against the Slavic population. Dr. Josef Mengele experimented on twins in the same complex. When a prisoner is not recovering quickly, was executed by lethal injection of phenol.

The camp brothel was created in the summer of 1943 by orders of Himmler. Was located in block 24 and was used to reward privileged prisoners. The guards they selected prisoners in this camp, but could accept voluntary attracted the best conditions for food.

Auschwitz II (Birkenau)

The ruins of what happened in birkenau, Auschwitz

The ruins of Birkenau – part of the area declared World Heritage by UNESCO.

Auschwitz II (Birkenau) is the field that is identified with Auschwitz. He closed where hundreds of thousands of Jews and where also there were executed more than a million Jews and Gypsies. What happened in Auschwitz II was one of the saddest chapters of our recent history.

The field is located at Birkenau, about 3 km from Auschwitz I. Construction started in 1941 as part of Endlösung (final solution). The field had an extension of 2.5 km by 2 km and was divided into several sections, each separated by fields. The fields in the same way that the whole complex were closed and surrounded by barbed wire electrical (some prisoners used to wrap electrical suicide). The camp housed up to 100,000 prisoners in extreme situations.

The aim of the camp was to make prisoners work (as was the case of Auschwitz I and III) but rather extermination. To meet this objective, the camp was equipped with four crematoria with gas chambers. Each gas chamber could receive up to 2,500 prisoners per turn. The large-scale extermination started in the spring of 1942 as a result of the acceleration of the Final Solution treated the Wannsee Conference.

Most of the prisoners arrived at the camp by rail, often after a terrible trip freight cars that lasted several days. From 1944 to extend the railway to arrive directly in the field. Sometimes the train to arrive, prisoners were sent straight to the gas chambers. At other times, the Nazis selected to prisoners usually under the supervision of Josef Mengele, to be sent to labor camps or experiments. Generally, children, elderly people and the sick were sent straight to the gas chambers.

When a prisoner passed the initial selection was sent to spend a quarantine period and then be assigned a task in the field or were sent to work in some of the labor camps annexes.

Those that were selected were sent to the extermination of a large complex of gas chambers / crematory heads at the ends of the field. Two of the crematoria (Krema Krema II and III) had underground facilities, a room to undress and a gas chamber with a capacity for thousands of people. To avoid panic, it was said that the victims were to receive treatment and disinfectant shower. The gas chamber even had pipes for showers, but never were connected to water. Ordained to the victims naked and leave their belongings in the locker room, where they could supposedly recovered at the end of treatment, so they had to remember the number of the location of your belongings. Once closed the entrance, unloaded toxic agent Zyklon B openings for the roof. The gas chambers and crematoria IV V had facilities in the area, and unloaded the Zyklon B for special windows walls. Once thrown Zyklon B were expecting about 25 minutes and was observed by the peephole lack of activity, it came to evacuate and ventilate the enclosure and removed the bodies to a sector for a final review. In this review were extracted gold teeth, rings, earrings or other objects and bodily orifices were reviewed in search of jewelry. After being reviewed, the bodies were transported to a room adjoining crematoria ovens or selected by the prisoners called Sonderkommandos where they were burned.

A high chimney gases expelled nauseating.

Nazi Germany invaded Hungary in March 1944; between May and July 1944, about 438,000 Hungarian Jews were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where most were executed. There were days when the furnace was overloaded and had to burn the bodies on bonfires outdoors.

Roma families were locked in a special section of the field. Were passed to the gas chambers in July 1944 and 10 October this year proceeded to exterminate the remaining Roma children.

On October 7, 1944 Sonderkommandos Jews (those prisoners kept separate from the rest and working in the operation of the gas chambers and crematoria) staged a revolt. The prisoners had managed to extract explosives from a weapons factory and used them to destroy incinerating the IV partially and try to escape in the confusion. 250 prisoners were captured and immediately executed.

The gas chambers of Birkenau were destroyed by the SS in November 1944 in an attempt to hide the activities of Soviet troops in the field.

Auschwitz III

The subaltern labor camps installed in the Auschwitz complex were closely related to German industry, primarily in the areas military, metallurgy and mining. The largest work camp was Auschwitz III Monowitz, which began operations in May 1942. This camp was associated with the plant Buna-Werke company IG Farben and produced liquid fuels and synthetic rubber. At regular intervals, revisions were made to medical personnel medical Auschwitz II, to send sick and weak chambers of Birkenau.

Denial of what happened in Auschwitz

Since the end of World War II there have been attempts to negate what happened in Auschwitz, the purpose of extermination camps or their magnitude. It has been claimed that it would be impossible to burn so many bodies or even the facilities which can be visited actualment- were reconstructed after the war because they were consistent with what had been explained Auschwitz since the end of military confrontation.

In 2005 Oskar Gröning, a former Nazi officer decided to testify. Gröning was a member of the Hitler Youth, there became a member of the Nazi party and later enlisted in the Waffen SS at the age of 20 years. After two years of administrative work for the SS, was assigned to Auschwitz in 1942. Initially Gröning thought was a normal camp, but soon saw the arrival of the first convoy of prisoners and selection by the medical staff SS, where only 20% of newcomers was chosen to work the fields. The patients were transported by personal transport bunk that used the symbol of the Red Cross, to give a sense of normalcy. After accompanied the group who had not selected for the job and the sick to the gas chambers disguised as showers and finally saw the burning of bodies in crematoria and the organization of goods for further classification. Gröning asked to be transferred to a combat unit, but their services were needed as administrative personnel in the field, so he spend two years instead of bringing goods recovered from the belongings of the prisoners, helped by abundant alcohol available in the field. At the end of the war he was taken prisoner (until 1948) but omitted to mention his time in Auschwitz in interrogations. Years later he made public his past, though he never prevailed charged.

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