All over the world, Auschwitz has become a symbol of terror, genocide and the Holocaust. It was established by the Nazis in 1940, in the suburbs of Oswiecim, a Polish city that was annexed to the Third Reich by the Nazis. Its name was changed to Auschwitz, which also became the name of Konzentrationslager Auschwitz.
The camp was established in mid-1940, more than a year before the Germans embarked upon the "Endlösung der Judenfrage" (Final Solution of the Jewish Question) - the plan, systematically carried out, to murder all the Jews living in the countries occupied by the Third Reich. The direct reason for the establishment of the camp was the fact that mass arrests of Poles were increasing beyond the capacity of existing "local" prisons.
Beginning in 1942, Auschwitz began to function in another way. The second camp, Auschwitz - Birkenau, became the center of the mass destruction of the European Jews. The Nazis marked all the Jews living in Europe for total extermination, regardless of their age, sex, occupation, citizenship, or political views. They died only because they were Jews. After the selections conducted on the railroad platform, or ramp, newly arrived persons classified by the SS physicians as unfit for labor were sent to the gas chambers: the ill, the elderly, pregnant women, children. In most cases, 70-75% of each transport was sent to immediate death. These people were not entered in the camp records; that is, they received no serial numbers and were not registered. This is why it is possible only to estimate the total number of victims.
Historians estimate that among the people sent to Auschwitz - Birkenau there were at least 1,100,000 Jews from all the countries of occupied Europe, over 140,000 Poles (mostly political prisoners), approximately 20,000 Gypsies from several European countries, over 10,000 Soviet prisoners of war and over ten thousand prisoners of other nationalities. The majority of the Jewish deportees died in the gas chambers immediately after arrival.
The overall number of victims of Auschwitz - Birkenau in the years 1940-1945 is estimated at between 1,100,000 and 1,500,000 people. The majority of them and above all the mass transports of Jews who arrived beginning in 1942, died in the gas chambers.
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- Text: Lars van Lier & Auschwitz-museum
- Photos: Marco Hilgers (1, 2), Lennard Bolijn (3, 4, 5)