Auschwitz: The Holocaust Concentration Camp

Last Updated: Friday, September 15, 2017

After the occupation of Poland by the Third Reich, the name of the city of Oswiecim was changed to Auschwitz by the Germans, and became the name of the camp as well.

Auschwitz functioned throughout its existence as a concentration camp, and over time became the largest such Nazi camp.

In the first period of the existence of the camp, it was primarily Poles who were sent here by the German occupation authorities. These were people regarded as particularly dangerous: the elite of the Polish people, their political, civic, and spiritual leaders, members of the intelligentsia, cultural and scientific figures, and also members of the resistance movement, officers, and so on.

Over time, the Nazis also began to send groups of prisoners from other occupied countries to Auschwitz.

Beginning in 1942, Jews whom the SS physicians classified as fit for labor were also registered in the camp. From among all the people deported to Auschwitz, approximately 400,000 people were registered and placed in the camp and its sub-camps (200,000 Jews, more than 140,000 Poles, about 20,000 Gypsies from various countries, more than 10,000 Soviet prisoners of war, and more than 10,000 prisoners of other nationalities).

Over 50% of the registered prisoners died as a result of starvation, labor that exceeded their physical capacity, the terror that raged in the camp, executions, the inhuman living conditions, disease and epidemics, punishment, torture, and criminal medical experiments.

Auschwitz has become a symbol of terror, genocide, and the Holocaust. It was established by the Nazis in 1940, in the suburbs of the city of Oswiecim which, like other parts of Poland, was occupied by the Germans during the Second World War. The name of the city of Oswiecim was changed to Auschwitz, which became the name of the camp as well.

Over the years, the camp was expanded and consisted of three main parts: Auschwitz I, Auschwitz II-Birkenau, and Auschwitz III-Monowitz. It also had over 40 sub-camps. At first, Poles were imprisoned and died in the camp. Afterwards, Soviet prisoners of war, Gypsies, and people of other nationalities were also incarcerated there. Beginning in 1942, the camp became the site of the greatest mass murder in the history of humanity, which was committed against the European Jews as part of Hitler's plan for the complete destruction of that people.

The majority of the Jewish men, women and children deported to Auschwitz were sent to their deaths in the Birkenau gas chambers immediately after arrival. At the end of the war, in an effort to remove the traces of the crimes they had committed, the SS began dismantling and razing the gas chambers, crematoria, and other buildings, as well as burning documents.

Prisoners capable of marching were evacuated into the depths of the Reich. Those who remained behind in the camp were liberated by Red Army soldiers on January 27, 1945.

A July 2, 1947 act of the Polish parliament established the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum on the grounds of the two extant parts of the camp, Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau.

More information about the city, past and present, can be found at the Oswiecim local government site.

Auschwitz - How Many Were Murdered?
Gassed on Registered Prisoners

Nationality / Arrival / Total / Died / Survived / Deaths
Jews 890,000 / 205,000 / 95,000 / 110,000 / 985,000
Poles 10,000 / 137,000 / 64,000 / 73,000 / 74,000
Romany 2,000 / 2,000 / 21,000 / 2,000 / 21,000
Soviet POWs 3,000 / 12,000 / 12,000 -- 15,000
Other 25,000 / 12,000 / 13,000 / 13,000
Totals 905,000 / 400,000 / 202,000 / 198,000 / 1,208,000