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Auschwitz - History & Facts +

Auschwitz Concentration Camp was established in 1940 by Nazi Germans. It was located on the outskirts of the polish city of Oswiecim which had been incorporated to the Third Reich.
Along with increasing number of Poles incarcerated in prisons, the need of a new place for inmates appeared. Originally, the camp was created as a concentration camp, designated for polish prisoners. The first transport came to Auschwitz in June 1940. The main aim of the camp changed in the beginning of 1942 when it became the largest death camp in the history of WW II.
The camp was divided into 3 parts. The first area called 'main camp' or 'Auschwitz I' was the oldest part build on the place of former pre-war Polish barracks. The number of inmates who could go through this camp in one time was 15,000 up to 20,000. The another part was 'Auschwitz II' called also 'Birkenau camp' which was the biggest area of Auschwitz camp. It was established in 1941 on the terrain of the village of Brzezinka lying 3 km from Oswiecim. That's here, the huge majority of prisoners were murdered in special gas chambers. It could hold even 90,000 prisoners. The third part of the camp was Auschwitz III (Monowitz) located 6 km from the main camp. Initially, it had been one of Auschwitz sub camps named the Buna sub-camp before it became the seat of the commandant of the third part of the camp.
Nazi Germans surrounded the areas of the camp and the sub-camps with a barbed-wire fences in order to isolate them and hide criminal activities from witnesses eyes. In 1940-1940 inhabitants of nearby villages were evicted. Their houses were demolished or adjusted for SS-staff's needs. The pre-war industrial facilities were adapted or dismantled to make a space for new factories.
The estimated number of victims of the whole complex of the Auschwitz camp in 1940-1945 is at least 1.3 million people, 1.1 million of them was murdered. Among prisoners were mainly Jews (1,095,000), Poles (147,000), Roma (23,000), the Soviet POW (15,000) and others (25,000).
On the area of the camp there were gas chambers and crematorium buildings. There were carried out various pseudoscientific medical experiments.
On October 1944, the revolt broke out. When prisoners had known that they were going to be killed, they decided to put up resistance. In the result of this uprising, almost all of the rebels were killed.
Nazi Germans began evacuating Auschwitz and its sub camps in January 1945. About 60,000 prisoners were forced to so-called 'Death Marches'. The rest inmates were murdered in the camps because they were too weak to go. However, most of prisoners didn't survive marches because of cold, lack of water and food, diseases.
The Auschwitz camp was liberated in 27 January, 1945, by the Soviet troops. Soldiers found about 7000 inmates in the camp.

Chelmno Kulmhof Concentration Camp +

Kulmhof Concentration Camp was established in December 1941 in the town of Chelmno, 30 miles northwest of Lodz. It was the first extermination camp in the region of Warthegau which used poison gas for killing people. Its aim was the annihilation of Jewish nationality from nearby territory. The action was named the 'Final Solution' and was the part of the 'Operation Reinhard' taken in autumn 1941. Nazi Germans choose the area of a manorial estate and nearby forest for the camp. They used an old palace for their seat and main offices. There were situated barracks and a reception area for prisoners in the camp. In Rzuchowski Forest, which was located 4 km from the camp, the dead bodies were buried and burned.
Between December 1941 and April 1943 deportees from Lodz ghetto and others neighbour ghettos were transported here. Inmates didn't know what is their fate. They were told to prepare for bath before they started working. In reality they were misled. The bath rooms occured gas vans where prisoners were murdered by exhaust gas. All of them were dead after 10 minutes and the vans were driven to the forest where corpes were buried in mass graves. In summer 1942, Nazi Germans took a decision to exhume bodies and burn them, because the smell and a risk of infection was too high. In consequences, shipment of new inmates were stopped. The camp was liquidated in April 1943.
From June 1943 to January 1945, Nazi Germans used the forest area for the next extermination action. New barracks and crematoria were built there. New transports of prisoners from Lodz ghetto could flood. Along with September 1944, the camp was decided to be destroyed. In January 1945, German Nazis left the camp as the Soviet Army approached.
The estimated number of murdered people oscilates between 150 - 300.000. Most of them were Jews not only from Poland but also from Germany, Austria, Bohemia, Moravia and Luxemburg, as well as they were Gypsies too.

Majdanek Concentration Camp +

Majdanek Concentration camp was established in October 1941 on Heinrich Himmler’s initiative. He visited Lublin in July 1941. He decided to create a forced labour camp in the area of the city of Lublin. Prisoners were to work in SS and police workshops and at construction sites. The location of the camp was unusual. Most of concentration and death camps were hidden in rural or forest areas surrounding by wire-barbed fences. Majdanek camp was rather public because of the open area without trees and natural boundaries (mountains, river, etc.). Everybody could observe a smoke escaping from the brick chimney of the crematoria or buildings of gas chambers. The name Majdanek is an informal name for the camp. The original name is the Concentration Camp in Lublin (KL Lublin). The name of 'Majdanek' took from the name of nearby Lublin' district of Majdan Tatarski. Inmates began using the world 'Majdanek' naming the concentration camp.
The area of the camp covered an area of 270 ha and it was divided into three parts. The first one was designated to SS-staff, the second – to administration zone and the third - to prisoners where primitive barracks were situated. Living conditions in the camp were very terrifying and even lethal because of shortage of food, water, medicines and clothing.
The first transport of prisoners came in October 1941 with 2000 Soviet POW. They were forced to work at the construction of the camp. Most of them died of emaciation. In December 1941, 150 Jews were placed in the camp and first non-Jewish Poles - in January. Inmates who were unable to work were shot in the Krepiecki Forest or at the edge of the camp's grounds. The camp was to be a forced-labor camp for Jews, but in reality members of various polish resistance groups and other people were also incarcerated there. The Majdanek camp was also used as a transit camp for Polish and Soviet civilians who were transported to forced-labour camps in the Third Reich. Along with the implementation of the 'Final Solution' – an action within the framework of 'Operation Reinhard' which aim was to annihilate Jewish nation in the area of General Government, mass murder began in spring 1942. Transports from Jewish ghetto carried the mass of Jews to death camps. Nazi Germans in Lublin were chosing the strongest people who were capable of working and they took them to Majdanek camp. However, gas chambers also were placed on the area of Majdanek camp. Weak prisoners were murdered with using of the Zyklon B gas and monoxide gas. The most terrible period of the camp's history was so-called 'Harvest Festival' which took place on November 3, 1943. In one day 18000 Jews were shot and 8000 forced to work at Majdanek. Loud music was played in the camp to drown sounds of murders during this Jewish massacre. This event was preceded by armed Jewish resistance in Białystok and Vilnius as well as uprisings in Treblinka and Sobibor. After this bloody day, Majdanek no longer had a majority of Jews among its inmates. In spring 1944, an evacuation to the west started. In July 1944, Soviet troops invaded Lublin and Nazi Germans left the camp. The liberation of Majdanek took place in 22/23 July 1944. This camp was the first liberated major concentration camp. Nazists didn't manage to obliterate traces of their murders.

Stutthof Concentration Camp +

Along with the beginning of WW II, the Stutthof camp was established in the 2nd of September, 1939 nearby the polish village of Sztutowo, 34 km east of Gdansk. The camp was hidden in forest areas apart from potential witnesses' eyes. Originally, it was a civilian internment camp where Poles and POW were detained. Not until the outbreak of the war, Nazi Germans had prepared a list with the names of people who should be arrested. There was included polish intelligentsia (clergy, teachers, politicians and more) which was considered as a dangerous 'polish element' for the Third Reich. The first transport of inmates (2 September) counted 150-250 people and 600 prisoners were in the camp in 15 September 1939. Most of them were killed in executions.
In next years the camp was transformed into a 'labor camp' (November 1941) and a regular concentration camp (January 1942). Along with 1942 new prisoners from various polish regions and other countries were coming to the camp. An estimated number of registered inmates was approx. 110 000 people. They came from 28 countries. A lot of them were activists of resistance groups and organizations not only from Poland but also from the Baltic States as well as guerrillas and those who protected them. The other group of prisoners were Jews. They were isolated and forced to the heaviest work and murdered. Total number of Jews placed in the Stutthof camp was about 50 500.
The whole complex of the new camp (after 1942) included about 40 barracks designated to prisoners, a huge building for SS-Staff, a crematory and a gas chamber which a total capacity was 150 people. Wagons were also used as a gas chamber when the number of prisoners to kill was to high.
The camp's conditions and treatment of prisoners were brutal. The weakest and ill prisoners were killed, the rest were exploited to a cheap labour. Inmates were put on work in SS—owned businesses, brickyards, industrial enterprises, in agriculture, camp's own workshops and, after 1944, in armament production.
Along with the approaching of the Soviet Army, the camp's evacuation began. In 25 January 1945 the first prisoners left the camp and start off to Nazi German camps nearby Lebork. In April 1945 the next evacuation took place. Prisoners were to get to Germany over the sea. Hundreds of inmates died during those Death Marches. Some of them were shot, other died of cold, terrible conditions, diseases. 9 May 1945 the Soviet troops invaded Stutthof camp and liberated it. They found about 140 inmates who hid from evacuation.

Sobibor Death Camp +

The second extermination camp (after Belzec camp) which was established within the framework of the 'Operation Reinhard' was the camp located nearby the village of Sobibor close to the present-day eastern border of Poland. The aim of the camp was to annihilate Jewish nation inhabited on the General Government's area. The location of Sobibor extermination camp was perfect because the whole area of the camp was in a forest, hidden and well-masked by trees planted next to a barbed-fire fence. The camp laid along the railway line. When repair works were being carried out in the tracks in 1942, new prisoners came to the camp in wagons or on foot from neighboring towns.
The camp complex were divided into three parts. The first one was for SS-staff and guards - mainly Soviet POWs, but also Polish and Ukrainian civilians trained in Trawniki camp. There were also barracks for inmates. That was an administration area. The next one – a reception area was the place where the railway siding, a ramp, barracks were located and where prisoners were deprived of their possessions. In the third part there was a killing zone with a gas chamber, mas graves and barracks fo prisoners forced to bury corpses and sort dead people's property. There were also a corridor called „tube” which connected the reception area with the killing area. The first transport of Jewish prisoners arrived in spring of 1942. Jews came from the Lublin District (belonging to Generalgouvernement), Austria, Germany, Czechoslovakia and others. The process of extermination began in May 1942. Original wooden gas chambers were rebuilt in June and September. In autumn of 1942, Nazi Germans started incinerating bodies of killed inmates to cover traces of murder. According to statistics, 170000 Jews from Europe were murdered in Sobibor camp. In July 1943 the death camp was to be transformed into a concentration camp (the camp IV). Making a use of a less stable situation in the camp, connected with the reconstruction of the camp, inmates decided to set up an underground resistance group. Coming of new prisoners – Jewish POWs from Minsk – accelerated the decision of uprising. In October 1943 armed revolt broke out. It started a mass escape of inmates who knew about it. About 300 prisoners managed to escape. 46 of them survived the war. After the uprising, Nazi Germans started to liquidate the whole camp.
The camp remained forgotten for over 20 years. In 1965 first monuments were erected. In 50 years after the revolt outbreak, the Museum of the Former Death Camp was established and it was included to the State Museum at Majdanek in 2012.

Belzec Extermination Camp +

Before an extermination camp nearby Belzec was erected, a labour camp operated in 1940 on the same place. In the labour camp, Jews from various parts of occupied polish territories were forced to build fortifications and anti tank ditches. This operation was to strengthen the German and Soviet border on occupied Poland which covered the Bug River. The labour camp was dismantled in the end of 1940.
The new extermination camp started to be built in November 1941. It was designated for Jews and along with the decision of carrying out of the Operation Reinhard (an annihilation of Jewish population), mass murdering with the use of a gas chamber was begun in the camp. The Belzec Camp was the second Nazi German death camp and one of the first camps which put Operation Reinhardt into action.
The location was chosen because of few factors. One of them was the fact that this area was known by Nazi Germans – a former labour camp were situated there with ready railway ramps and so-called 'Otto Line' – the anti tank ditch. Moreover, the railroad Lublin – Rava Ruska was located in close vicinity to the camp. In 17 March of 1942 , Jews from first two transports were murdered in primitive wooden gas chambers. The estimated number of victims killed in this way by June 1942 was 80.000. Along with July of 1942 the number of deportations increased and it was connected with the use of new larger gas chambers built with concrete. They resemble bathrooms with showers installed in the ceiling. Additionally, there were inscriptions on doors indicated that those rooms are for bathing and inhalation. 350-400.000 Jewish inmates were gassed in few months. Moreover, about 500 Jewish prisoners were forced to burn corpses and segregate murdered Jews' properties.
Inmates came to the camp in cattle trucks which were overcrowded and where extreme conditions – heat, lack of water and food – took its toll.
The plan of Belzec Camp included an administration-reception area (with a railway siding and a ramp) and the separate space where Jewish prisoners were murdered out of reach witnesses' eyes and buried.
Perhaps for the reason of the lack of space for next graves, the camp was closed in 1942. Up to 1943 the operation which aim was to hide the crime evidences, was carried out. The camp was razed to the earth by June of 1943 with the help of Sonderkommando. After that, the prisoners included to that work units were transported to Sobibor The afforested areas of the former extermination camp have remained forgotten and neglected. In 1963 the first monument was erected to commemorate victims of Nazi German regime in that place and in 2004 Museum – Memorial Site in Belzec was established there as a branch of the State Museum at and killed.

Plaszow Concentration Camp +

The concentration camp in Plaszow was situated in Krakow and was designated for Jews from the nearby ghetto. The camp was operating in 1942-1945. Initially, it was a forced labor camp built on two Jewish cemeteries, then it was enlarged and turned into the concentration camp in 1944. On the area of camp were barracks, factories, warehouses, zones for men and women, a „labor education camp” for those who have broken camp's rules. Jews were working in nearby Liban Quarry. Thousands of inmates were killed there. In 1944, Nazi Germans begun to dismantle the whole camp and in 1945 the last prisoners were transported to Auschwitz.
If it comes to Plaszow concentration camp, it is necessary to mention about Oskar Schindler – a German industrialist who run his business in an enamelware manufacturer in order to protect Jews residing Krakow's ghetto. His story was put on the Steven Spielberg's 1993 film Schindler's List which we strongly recommend to watch because it gives substitute of knowledge about a camp which doesn't exist any more .
Today on the area of former camp are placed few monuments which commemorate victims of Nazi German ideology, policy. The biggest monument is Plaszow Memorial depicting 5 people without hearts who are overwhelmed by a heavy stone block. There you can also find two smaller monuments as well as Amon Goeth's house and the Grey House – a former dark cell. The whole area of former concentration camp is overgrown.

Gross Rosen Concenration Camp +

Gross Rosen camp was established in August 1940 as a subcamp of KL Sachsenhausen. 1 May 1941 it became an autonomous concentration camp. The function of the camp was to exploit prisoners as a cheap labour in granit quarries. The Gross Rosen camp is considered as one of the heaviest concentration camps. The conditions were unbearable: constant mistreatment, shortage of food and water, diseases, backbreaking work decimated prisoners.
In 1944, the camp was extended. About 100 new subcamps were built around the Gross Rosen camp in Sudeten, the Lower Silesia. The biggest ones were AL Fünfteichen in Jelcz, 4 camps in Wrocław (Breslau), Dyhernfurth in Brzeg Dolny. One of the most know subcamps was Brunnlitz subcamp – a former textile factory – where Jews from Plaszow camp were transported to and thanks to that they were able to survive the war there.
The total number of passing prisoners through the camp was about 125.000. Between 1940-1943 most of inmates were Jews, mainly they came from Poland and Hungary. Inmates worked in armament production but also for German companies Krupp, I.G. Farben, and Daimler Benz. Along with approaching Soviet troops, in January 1945 Nazi Germans started to prepare to an evacuation of the Gross Rosen camp. They dissolved subcamps and they left the camp with prisoners in February 1945. The death marches begun. Plenty of inmates died of cold, lack of food, emaciation. This last period of the Gross Rosen camp is the most terrible and bloody. Estimated number of killed prisoners is at least 40,000.

Mauthausen Concentration Camp +

Before WWII broke out, Nazi Germans had incorporated territories of Austria on March 1938. On the new areas they were searching for a suitable place for a new concentration camp. They choose the areas of the town of Mauthausen, only 12,5 miles southwest of Linz. The extra adventage of that site was a nearby granite quarry. SS established a new company DESt in April 1938 which a purpose was an extracting stone with the help of inmates from Mauthausen camp. Prisoners were exploited as a cheap labour to the utmost. The camp was built in 1938. The first transport counted 300 prisoners and with the end of 1938 in the camp there were 1000 inmates and in December 1939 – 2.600. The first incarcerated people were convicted criminals, opponents to Nasizm regime, so-called 'asocials' or Jehovah's Witnesses. After breaking out of the war, the number of inmates considerably was increased. Prisoners came from almost every country in Europe and also from the other countries of the world. An estimated number of people who passed through the camp between 1938-2945 was 200.000. At least the half of them were killed.
The camp is rated among the most brutal and huge camps classified to III category. Extremely bad conditions of living, permament terror and mistreatment, the cold and constant hunger as well as backbreaking work took its toll. Prisoners have been beaten to death, hanged, shot, frozen. As a result of carrying out various medical experiments on inmates, introducing Operation 14f13 which aim was to extent Nazi 'Euthanasia policy' and using gas chambers, a lot of prisoners have died.
After 1943, Nazi Germans decided to run an armaments industry. They established new sub-camps of Mauthausen and forced inmates to work in armament companies. In the same year Spanish Republicans started to create secret networks of resistance and in winter of 1944/1945 they set up underground formations. New self-help resistance groups were established. In February 1945, 200 of inmates tried to escape but this attempt fizzled out with the death of the most of rebels. Along with 1945 and approaching of the Soviet troops, huge evacuation of prisoners started. Inmates from Auschwitz, Sachsenhausen, Gross-Rosen were transported to Mauthausen camp in trains, trucks, death marches. In Mauthausen the last mass murder was carried out 28 April 1945. 33 opponents of Nazi regime were killed. SS abandoned the camp on 3 May 1945.
23 May 1945 the former commandant of Mauthausen camp – Franz Ziereis - were captured and shot while trying to escape. Before the death he was interrogated and his words were used during a prosecution of camp administrative staff and guard units.

Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp +

In 1936 Nazi Germans built a new concentration camp in close vicinity to Berlin. It was the second camp on that area. The first one was located in Oranienburg. Both were designated for political opponents against the National Socialists and the Nazis as well as for people who were declared as inferior race. Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp was to be a model camp in the shape of equilateral triangle with symmetrically laid out buildings of barracks. The Nazi Germans' intention was to create a camp which could be a symbol of the power of the Third Reich connected with its functionalism. From 1939 onwards, prisoners from other countries were transported to the camp after the break-out of the WW II. When the Gestapo relocated its house to Sachsenhausen Camp, camp's importance increased. Thereafter there were trained new SS soldiers. Numerous prominent people were confined in prison who were given false names. Among them were Georg Elser, Herschel Grynszpan, Hasso von Boehmer, Carl Hans von Hardenberg, Siegfried Wagner.
In total, more than 200.000 prisoners passed through the camp. Most of them came from Poland and the Soviet Union. Inmates were forced to work in SS's own workshops, small companies and also to backbreaking labour in numerous so-called 'punishment units'. Tens of thousands prisoners were murdered in the camp. They died of hunger, the cold, diseases, emaciation, mistreatment or they were killed in executions. In 1941, Nazi Germans put new machines for killing into practise. At least 12,000 inmates were gassed in special vehicles. Most of them were Jews.
Along with the Soviet Army's approaching, Nazi Germans prepared to a huge evacuation. On 21 April 1945 the period of 'death marches' began. 33.000 of 38.000 prisoners were gathered in 500 groups. British and Soviet officers had been killed earlier as especially dangerous. Inmates who were to weak to go also were murdered. Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp was liberated on the 22 April 1945.
The next history of Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp is connected with Russian occupation of German area. Soviets created the Soviet Special Camp No. 7 on the place of the former concentration camp in 1948 and the Special Camp No. 1 which was the biggest of 3 camps in the Soviet Zone of Occupation. Prisoners were especially Nazists. They were imprisoned in the same building what their victims earlier. In 1950 the camp was closed. In 1961 the Sachsenhausen National Memorial was erected in order to remember about the "victory of anti-fascism over fascism".

Terezin Concentration Camp +

In North Bohemia, along Ohre River there is situated a former military fortress. It was erected in the end of 18th century by Joseph II – Habsburg emperor - with the aim of protecting north borders against Prussian army. The whole complex consisted of a citadel, the Small Fortress, a walled town, and the Main Fortress. The another name of that fortress is Theresienstadt which is named for Joseph II' mother - Maria Theresa. This huge fortress could held 11,000 soldiers.
After taking over Czech lands in 1939 by Nazi Germans, the fortress was started to be adjusted to a new function. The Prague Gestapo set up a prison in the Small Fortress in 1940. It was the largest prison on the area of Bohemia. Originally, there were detained activists of resistance movements against Nazi regime. The estimated number of inmates who passed through this prison is 32.000. They primarily came from Czech, but also there were Soviets, Poles, Germans, and more. Some of them were transported to concentration camp, other were shot or died of exhaustion, for lack of food, mistreatment. However, among inmates there were artists, intelligentia who made an attempt to prevent the rest of humanity thanks to organising some 'cultural meetings' in evenings during which they were writing poems, discussing, singing, praying. On the other side of the Ohre River, Nazi Germans prepared the Jewish Ghetto on the area of the city of Terezin (the Main Fortress) from which inhabitants were expelled in 1941. More than 150,000 Jews lived there and approx. 35,000 of them died because of diseases, cold, terror, brutal treatment, hunger. About 88,000 of Jews were transported to Auschwitz and other death camps. Nazi Germans exploited inmates in slave labor forcing them to backbreaking work in limestone quarry. In May 1945, the camp was freed by Soviet troops.
The Czechoslovak government opened the National Suffering Memorial in 1947, which was later on renamed the Terezin Memorial. This place commemorates tens of thousands victims of Nazi German regime. It makes the Small Fortress, Crematorium, Columbarium, Central Morgue and more accessible to visitors.

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