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Auschwitz Birkenau - Extermination camp


Entrance to Auschwitz Birkenau 

       Auschwitz/Birkenau, Nazi Germany's largest concentration and extermination camp facility was located nearby the provincial Polish town of Oświęcim in Galacia. Auschwitz was established by order of Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler on 27 April 1940. The first thirty identification numbers were issued to common German criminals. They were transferred from concentration camp Sachsenhausen by Commandant Höss. Bruno Brodniewitsch, who was received registration no. 1, was made the Lagerälteste - camp senior. The remaining 29 criminals became kapos. A kapo was an SS-appointed prisoner who was made foreman of a labor squad. They lived in the same barracks that also housed the political prisoners, albeit under better circumstances. The first transport of 728 Polish prisoners arriving in Auschwitz I. They were sent there by the  Sicherheitspolizei - Security Police. They came from the regular prison at Tarnów where they had been incarcerated as political opponents of the Nazi regime. These inmates were assigned the numbers 31 through 758.

       The initial transport of Polish political prisoners arrived on the 14th of June, 1940. Auschwitz I was primarily reserved for political prisoners, mainly Poles and Germans, throughout its existence. This section of the Auschwitz complex featured permanent buildings. It was called the Mother Camp. Auschwitz I never held a large number of Jewish prisoners. In October 1941 it was supplemented by a much larger complex made up of wooden barracks known as Auschwitz II, better known as Birkenau, the notorious extermination camp facility



Location of the various camp facilities with regard to the town of Auschwitz.

       Birkenau was located outside the nearby village of Brzezinka. The Nazis called it Birkenau because it was built amidst many birch trees. Perhaps the similarity to the Polish name Brzezinka had something to do with that. Auschwitz II was an extensive complex made up of wooden structures which originally were built to stable fifty-two horses. But owing to the efficiency of the administration eight hundred men, or women and children for that matter, were crammed into these barracks. Sometimes six, eight, or more had to share a one plank bed in a three tier bunk.

       This camp at first was home for Russian prisoners of war. Almost all died shortly after arrival be- cause of poor camp conditions. Some were outright killed. After March 1942 the SS developed a gigantic extermination complex at Birkenau which included so-called Badeanstalten - bathing facilities. In reality these were nothing else but disguised showerheads used for the gassing of prisoners with the intent to cause death using Zyklon-B pellets. Zyklon B was a poisonous gas used by the SS for mass extermination in the gaschambers. Made from hydrogen cyanide crystals, it was originally manufactured as a strong disinfectant and for pest control. Leichenkeller - corpse cellars were used to store the victims' bodies, and Einäscherungsöfen - crematoria were used to ultimately dispose of the bodies. All this was to satisfy Hitler's demand for a final solution to the Jewish question. In other words, the annihilation of all Jews who lived in Europe.


The railroad tracks with platform for unloading can be seen leading through the center of the camp. The women's barracks were to the left and the barracks for men to the right of the tracks. Behind the men's barracks, toward the forest, where the Roma and Sinti were housed. The five crematoria were located at the edge at the forest and the path along the tracks lead to them.

       Upon their arrival in cattle cars, Jewish prisoners were subjected to a Selektion - Selection. Able men and women were sent to the forced-labor camp, while the aged, the weak, and children with their mothers were exterminated. Forced laborers also were periodically subjected to selections, to weed out those weakened by overwork, disease, or hunger. Some prisoners were selected for medical experiments such as the testing for cheap and quick methods of sterilization. Twins were killed and autopsies performed in search of means to improve on the Aryan breed. The notorious camp doctor Joseph Mengele conducted these experiments on twins but he also supervised the Selektionen - Selections. The first transport of Jewish victims arrived on 17 July 1942 from Transit Camp Westerbork which was located in the Netherlands. The efficiency of the selection process and subsequent extermination of the exhausted, helpless victims was supervised by Joseph Mengele.

       Another camp near the village of Dwory, later called Auschwitz III, became in May 1942 a slavelabor camp supplying workers for the large chemical and synthetic-rubber works of IG Farben. Known by the name Buna-Works, it was established in the nearby town of Monowice. The name was germanized into Monowitz by the Nazis. From 4 May 1940 to early January 1945, SS-Hauptsturmführer - SS Captain, later promoted to SS-Standartenführer - SS Colonel, Rudolf Franz Höss was the supreme commandant of Auschwitz and all of its subcamps.

       Altogether 404,222 numbers officially were issued. Of these, 270,726 went to male and 133,496 went to female inmates. Everyone, including children but excluding those selected for extermination, received a number upon arrival at Auschwitz I. All Jews and non-Jews, including Sinti and Roma, who reached the camp alive had a number tattooed on the left forearm. Initially these numbers were tattooed on the left upper chest. However, the latter practice was discontinued in favor of putting the tattoo on the left forearm to more easily read the numbers.

       The registered number of camp inmates who died in Auschwitz I is approximately 261,000. An additional 134,000 were transferred to other camps or evacuated before liberation. It is estimated that about 80,000 of these died or were killed during the infamous death marches. Some 2,000 non-Jews were released and nearly 200 inmates, including several Jews, managed to escape; 7,650 freed by the Soviet army on 27 January 1945. When the Soviets entered Auschwitz I the camp was virtually undamaged. Many official documents also survived. As Soviet armies advanced, Auschwitz was abandoned. Most of the remaining able inmates left on 17 January 1945. They were transported to Dachau, Mauthausen, and other notorious Nazi camps, mostly on foot, referred to as Death Marches

       At the time of the Red Army's arrival there were seven thousand sick and exhausted prisoners in the Auschwitz, Birkenau, and Monowitz camps. On the grounds of the main camp forty eight corpses were discovered and in Birkenau over six hundred corpses were found of both male and female prisoners who were shot to death or died otherwise in the last few days before liberation.



All gas chambers at Birkenau were destroyed by the Nazis. Above the ruins of one of the five crematoria.

       The total number of Jewish dead in Auschwitz II/Birkenau will never be known for certain for most were not registered. Estimates vary from between one and two and a half million. Probably the higher figure is nearer to the truth. Hundreds of thousands of Roma were also killed at Birkenau and the number of Russian POWs who were exterminated there is unknown. When the Soviets entered Birkenau they discovered that the extermination centers had been destroyed. The Nazis had dynamited the four gas chambers and crematoria complexes. To this day only ruins remain. Nevertheless, the evidence of Nazi atrocities ever having been committed at Auschwitz/Birkenau is overwhelming regardless the attempt by revisionists to cover up history.


Auschwitz I seen from inside of the fence. Few prisoners managed to escape this forbidding place.

You can see a photo presentaton of our visit to Auschwitz and Auschwitz Birkenau in March 2008 by following the link:

Auchwitz-Birkenau photo presentation

If you would like to use a large version of this presentation for educational purposes, mail us through our contactform and just let us know (Sion Soeters)