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Camp Summary

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Auschwitz concentration camp was primarily formed to hold Polish “political” prisoners. After the initial success that the Nazi German forces had experienced, the need for a larger prison complex became apparent to house the ever growing list of polish “political” prisoners. At this point, a special commission was assigned to locating a new prison facility. A number of places were nominated as potential candidates, but the final choice fell on the  former polish army camp located on the out skirts of a small Polish town called Oświęcim. In the first phase of the war, the Germans had incorporated this area within the borders of the third Reich and renamed the town to Auschwitz. The first political prisoners arrived at the camp on June 14 1940. There was a total of 728 Polish political prisoners in this first shipment, including a few Jewish prisoners.

The Konzentrationslager Auschwitz as the Nazi Germans named this concentration camp had many ”positive” factors that prompted its development on a massive scale. As the original army camp was located on the outskirts of town with two rivers separating it from the main inhabited area, it was easy to isolate this area from the general population of the region. In addition, the town of Oświęcim was located in an area with well developed railway and road connections to other Polish towns as well as to border crossings to the other occupied territory.

In the summer of 1941, the Nazi Germans started to deport not only poles to Auschwitz, but also other nationalities including Soviet POWs, Czechs, Yugoslavians and members of other occupied countries. Furthermore, many Jewish prisoners who had been arrested in occupied countries started to arrive in larger numbers.

From 1942 to 1945, the camp of Auschwitz was expanded, with the development of an additional two larger camps Auschwitz II-Birkenau, Auschwitz III-Monowitz. Auschwitz III-Monowitz or Monowitz-Buna as it is also referred to, being the smaller of these two camps. Furthermore, there was a development of a network of sub camps in the area totaling almost 50 camps of various sizes and standard to for fill the labor need of the third Reich.

Auschwitz I

Auschwitz I was the main command center for the entire complex of camps. In Auschwitz I there were warehouses and factories, where prisoners were forced into hard labor Auschwitz I consisted of 30 buildings surrounded by a closely guarded system of electric fences and guard towers. The first guards who were brought here were German criminals, transported from the camp at Sachsenhausen. Above the entrance to Auschwitz I there is the inscription "Arbeit macht frei," Work will set you free. Auschwitz I was created in 1940 and developed in the area of a former Polish military camp using the original camp barracks. Auschwitz I was the main control center for KL Auschwitz and when the camp was under the command of Rudolf Hoss, then the entire complex was managed by the camp commander from here. After Hoss was recalled from Auschwitz then the camp's administration was divided and the day to day running of Birkenau and Monowitz was handed over to the camp commanders of these camps. In addition, all sub camps were placed under Auschwitz III-Monowitz.

In Auschwitz I the Nazis established the first ever separate concentration camp for women, separating the camp in two. Communication between the two sections was strictly forbidden. Auschwitz I is where the first attempt at gassing with Zyklon B was carried out, in the basement of block 11 on Sovite POW’s along with a hand full of Jews, who were deemed unsuitable for working. Later Auschwitz I was fully equipped with a fully functional gas chamber and crematorium, that can be still visited today as the only gas chamber and crematorium that is still intact. The first mass transports of Jews were murdered in Auschwitz I gas chamber, the SS would run the engines of the lorries used to bring the prisoners to the camp so that prisoners in the camp would not hear the screams of the terrified prisoners as the gassing commenced. Auschwitz I was also the place where Dr Clauberg conducted numerous criminal medical experiments on prisoners.

Auschwitz I was  the camp where most executions by a firing squad took place. The Gestapo would hold court meetings in barrack 11, and then the prisoners would be lead out to the death wall between barracks 10 and 11 where they would be executed. Barrack 11 was also used as a camp jail. In the basement of block 11 you can still see some of the most commonly used forms of torture and methods of slowly killing prisoners. This is where the starvation cells, suffocation cells and the standing cells are located among other things.

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Auschwitz II - Birkenau

The construction of Auschwitz II - Birkenau, was started in October of 1941 as the ever-growing number of prisoners in Auschwitz I was becoming again a problem. The area that was to become Birkenau, was land that had previously belonged to the villagers of the resettled village of Birkenau. Much of the area was marshland and in the first phase of the development, the area needed to be drained. All the drainage trenches were dug out by the prisoners using hand tools. Auschwitz II-Birkenau covers a massive area of almost 200 hectares. It is the largest of the camps in Auschwitz and the largest concentration camp, created by the Nazis.

The camp consisted of nearly 300 primitive barracks. One could hold more than thousand prisoners even if it was not designed to house this many. Through the center of the camp from the main gate to gas chambers II & III are the main unloading ramp and railway siding. On either side of the center line, you have housing barracks where the prisoners were held. The concentration camp in Birkenau was divided up into smaller more controllable sections. These were divided by high-current electric barbed-wire fences. These smaller sections of the camp existed as a number of smaller camps for male, female, the Gypsy family camp, the family camp for Jews from Theresienstadt, hospital's and the quarantine camp.

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Auschwitz Birenkau was developed with multiple tasks in mind, but the result was clear, the extermination of all that the Third Reich found unsuitable for the vision they had of the new Europe. Starting with the extermination of the Jewish people, be it by working them to the point of death or by sending them directly to the gas chambers upon arrival in the camp. The first working gas chamber in Birkenau was “The little Red house”, this former farm house was converted into a gas chamber by bricking up all the walls into an airtight chamber. The little Red house was in operation already by March of 1942, and the completion of a similar cottage was completed some weeks later. This one was given the name “The little White house” These small farm houses were not the main gas chambers of Auschwitz birkenau, but just the start of what was to come.

Rudolf Hoss, the camp commandant of Auschwitz at this time, testified that Heinrich Himmler personally ordered him to prepare Auschwitz-Birkenau to carry out the final solution. Auschwitz –Birkenau became the largest Nazi extermination camp, with four gas chamber and crematoriums. In 1943, the Nazis made the conversion of an underground morgue into the first killing factory of Auschwitz-Birkenau. The morgue already had ground level furnaces, and the conversion was a relatively simple task, by adding an airtight door on the morgue and vents for the Zyklon B as well as ventilation for the removal of the gas after the gassing was completed. The Nazi Germans made four gas chambers in Auschwitz – Birkenau. Gas chamber II was already running in March, and all four of the crematoriums were running by June of 1943. According to the calculation of the Nazis, these four crematoriums and gas chambers could exterminate more than 1 .6 million people pr year.

Auschwitz Birkenau extermination camp is a place where the murder of about 1 million people took place. Many were sent directly to their death upon arrival in the camp others were selected to live and work in the camp for as long as their bodies could endure the hard labor, under nourishment, physical abuse and the many illnesses that often run rampant in the camps. About, 90% of the prisoners who were killed here were Jews, about 70 thousand were Polish, and 20 thousand were Gypsies.

Auschwitz Birkenau was staffed partly by prisoners and partly by the SS. Some of the prisoners were selected to be Kapos (Most of these were German convicts) and others were selected to work in the camp’s Sonderkommandos. The Kapos were responsible for keeping order in the barracks and supervising the other prisoners during their working day. The Sonder command was responsible for the daily running of the gas chambers and crematoriums, moving the bodies from the gas chambers to the crematoriums, searching the bodies for any valuables, including the removal of gold teeth. The Sonder command would be periodically killed by the Nazis to ensure that there would be no witnesses to the crimes that were taking place here.

Auschwitz III - Monowitz

Auschwitz III –Monowitz was the largest among the work camps in Auschwitz. The initiation to this camp was the I.G Farben chemical factory that in 1942 took the final decision on building its new plant between the eastern part of Oświęcim and the villages of Dwory and Monowice. In the original plan, this factory was going to be built in Silesia, where it would have been out of the range of the allied bombers, but due to better road and rail connections, water supply, salt from Wieliczka and coal from Libiąż, Jawiszowice and Jaworzno the choice fell to Monowitz. Furthermore,, an important factor was the slave labor force housed in the close by Auschwitz concentration camp.

Trucks started to bring the first workers from Birkenau in the spring of 1941 to the new factory site, but already by May the workers were having to walk the 6-7km from the camp to the labor site. By the end of July, the number of workers on the site had climbed to over one thousand, and they were then brought by train to the nearby station in Dwory.

The construction continued in 1942 using the prisoners from Birkenau, but then on the 21st of July, due to a typhus outbreak in the main camp the workers were no longer supplied by Birkenau to the site in Monowitz. The factory management seeing that they had lost their supply of cheap labor, decided to convert the barracks of a civilian camp being built on the outskirts of the factory and turn it over to the SS to house the prisoners who would be working for the factory. This would ensure the constant supply of a labor force for the continued construction of the factory.

The first prisoners were sent to Auschwitz III Monowitz on the 26th of September in 1942, by the first half of 1943 the number of prisoners in the camp was over 6000 and by the summer of 1944, there were over 11000 prisoners housed here.

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The camp in Monowitz was infamous for it many selections. The factory argued the need for the work force to be fresh at all times, stating that they had not spent large amounts of money on a separate camp to function as a sick house for prisoners who were not able to work. Summing up the total number of prisoners who died working for I.G Farbon, gives the total to about 10000 victims, the high number of victims in Monowitz is not only due to the poor living standards in the camp or only due to the lack of sufficient food for the prisoners, but also the attitude of the management has to take much of the blame. They encouraged the use of physical abuse to achieve the maximum output from the prisoners working for them, at one point the SS even brought in a special group of German criminal capos who had been picked for their brutality.

After the management saw that this approach was not achieving the desired effect, they changed strategy and started to offer incentives for working harder, such as the right to wear a watch, payment slips that could be used in the camp canteen to buy low value items such as cigarettes and free visits to the camp bordello that had been established in the Monowitz camp in 1943, was among the things offered. None of the above had really any effect on the work performed by the prisoners and in the end, the management had to admit that the main reason for the workers not being able or willing to work faster was due to hunger. Even if the system of ruthless capos was looked upon as a”good” way to get the best results.

Auschwitz III Monowitz was liberated on the 27th of January 1945 by the Red Army, even if all the prisoners who were deemed healthy and able to walk had been evacuated on the 18th of January. Unfortunately, out of fear of mass extermination if they did not leave the camp when the evacuation started, many that was too sick and wick to make the long walk left along with the healthier prisoners on a death march to the Gleiwitz sub camp.

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