The Horrors of Auschwitz Concentration Camp

The entrance of Auschwitz Concentration Camp, now a museum and memorial to lives lost.
The entrance of Auschwitz Concentration Camp, now a museum and memorial to lives lost.

The Horrors of Auschwitz Concentration Camp

Auschwitz refers to a network of extermination camps built by the Third Reich during World War II in areas of Poland annexed by Nazi Germany. The camps were comprised of the original camp also known as Auschwitz I, a combination of an extermination and concentration camp known as Auschwitz II-Birkenau, a labor camp known as Auschwitz III-Monowitz and 45 satellite camps.

The Background of Auschwitz Concentration Camp

The idea for the Auschwitz chambers of horrors was conceived by the Nazis who had seized power in Germany. Expanding their territories with the aim of extending living spaces for the Germania people, the Nazis began committing acts of violence against Jewish citizens as soon as they took control over Germany. Members of the Jewish community were not only physically harassed but also economically oppressed to voluntarily exit the country. Intermarriage was prohibited according to the Nuremberg Laws enacted in September 1935. Other minority groups were stripped of their citizenship.


Auschwitz I was built for the purpose of holding Polish political prisoners who started to arrive around May 1940. The first prisoners were exterminated in September 1941. At this time, Auschwitz II-Birkenau had become a primary site for the extermination of Jews. Between the early years of 1942 and late 1944, Jews were delivered to the concentration camp via transport trains throughout areas in Europe occupied by Germans. The prisoners were killed using a pesticide, Zyklon B. It is believed that about 1.3 million were brought to the camp, 1.1 million of whom died. About 90% of the prisoners killed were Jewish with approximately 1 in 6 Jews in Europe being killed in the Holocaust. Other detainees who were deported to the concentration camps included 150,000 Poles, 23,000 Sinti and Romani, 15,000 Soviet prisoners of war, 400 Jehovah's Witnesses, and homosexuals whose numbers are not known. Most prisoners were killed in the gas chambers but other causes of death included infectious diseases, medical experiments, starvation, individual executions, and forced labor.

Auschwitz During Wartime

In the course of World War II, Auschwitz Concentration Camp had an estimated staff of 7,000 Schutzstaffel soldiers, 12% of whom were convicted of war crimes. Others were executed including the camp commandant Rudolf Hoss. Earlier on, Allied powers of World War II refused to believe that there were any atrocities going on at the camp and their failure to respond remains controversial. It is believed that about 144 prisoners managed to escape out of the camp. On October 7, 1944, two units made up of death camp prisoners who were assigned to work at the gas chambers started an uprising which was both unsuccessful and short-lived.

End of the Auschwitz Concentration Camp

By January 1945, when the Soviet Troops were approaching the camp, most prisoners had already been sent on a death march to the west. The other inmates who remained in the camp were emancipated on January 27th, 1945. This date is now observed as the International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Decades later, some Auschwitz Camp survivors including Elie Wiesel, Primo Levi, and Viktor Frankl have wrote accounts of the horrors they went through while in the camps. The Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum was established in 1979 by Poland on the site where Auschwitz I and II used to be. UNESCO has listed the museum as a World Heritage Site.


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