KZ Auschwitz-Birkenau

Images of Konzentrationslager Auschwitz-Birkenau can be viewed here . WARNING: this link contains images of the former Auschwitz concentration camp which some people might find distressing.

KZ Auschwitz-Birkenau was part of a network of Nazi concentration camps and extermination camps built and operated by Hitler’s Third Reich in areas annexed by Nazi Germany during World War II.

It consisted of Auschwitz I (the main camp, located in the centre of Oświęcim, Poland), Auschwitz II–Birkenau (a combination concentration/extermination camp located about 3km from Oświęcim), Auschwitz III–Monowitz (a labour camp to staff a local IG Farben factory), and 45 satellite camps located around Oświęcim.

Auschwitz I was first constructed to hold Polish political prisoners, who began to arrive in May 1940. The first extermination of prisoners took place in September 1941, and Auschwitz II–Birkenau went on to become a major site of the Nazi ‘Final Solution’.

From early-1942 until late-1944, transport trains delivered Jews to the gas chambers from all over Nazi-occupied Europe, where they were killed with the pesticide Zyklon B. An estimated 1.300.000 million people were sent to the camp, of whom at least 1.100.000 million died. Around 90% of those killed were Jewish; others deported to Auschwitz included 150.000 Poles, 23.000 gypsies, 15.000 Soviet prisoners of war, 400 Jehovah’s Witnesses, and tens of thousands of others of diverse nationalities, including an unknown number of gay men.

Many of those not killed in the gas chambers died of starvation, forced labour, infectious diseases, individual executions, and medical experiments carried out by Dr Josef Mengele.

During the course of the war, the camp was staffed by 7.000 members of the Nazi SS, approximately 12 percent of whom were later convicted of war crimes. Some, including camp commandant Rudolf Höss, were executed after the war.

The Allied Powers refused to believe early reports of the atrocities at the camp, and their failure to bomb the camp or its railways remains controversial.

One hundred forty-four prisoners are known to have escaped from Auschwitz successfully, and on 7 October 1944, two Sonderkommando units (prisoners assigned to staff the gas chambers) launched a brief, unsuccessful uprising.

As Soviet troops approached Auschwitz in January 1945, most of its population was sent west on a death march. The prisoners remaining at the camp were liberated on 27 January 1945.

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