From _The Encyclopedia of the Holocaust_, Volume I (A-D), Israel Gutman, Ed., Macmillan, New York, 1990, pp. 107-119. (Entry for Auschwitz, written by Jozef Buszko.) AUSCHWITZ (Pol., Oswiecim), largest Nazi concentration and extermination camp, located 37 miles (60 km) west of Krakow. Auschwitz was both the most extensive of some two thousand Nazi concentration and forced-labor camps, and the largest camp at which Jews were exterminated by means of poison gas. On April 27, 1940, the head of the SS and German police, Heinrich Himmler, ordered the establishment of a large new concentration camp near the town of Oswiecim in Polish Eastern Upper Silesia, which had been annexed to the Third Reich after the defeat of Poland in September 1939. The building of the camp in Zasole, the suburb of Oswiecim, was started a short while later. The first laborers forced to work on the construction of the camp were three hundred Jews from Oswiecim and its vicinity. Beginning in June 1940, the Nazis brought transports of prisoners into the camp. During the first period, most of them were Polish political prisoners. On March 1, 1941, the prison population was 10,900, most of it still Polish. [...] In March 1941, Himmler ordered the erection of a second, much larger section of the camp, which was located at a distance of 1.9 miles (3 km) from the original camp. This was called Auschwitz II, or Birkenau. The original camp became known as the _Stammlager_ (main camp) -- Auschwitz I. [...] In October 1941, intensive work on the construction of barracks and other camp installations started in Auschwitz II. [...] In March 1942 a _Frauenabteilung_ (women's section) was established in the main camp, Auschwitz I, but was moved on August 16, 1942, to a section of Birkenau. The first groups of women to be imprisoned in the section in Auschwitz I were 999 German women from the Ravensbrueck camp, and an equal number of Jewish women from Poprad, Slovakia; by the end of March more than 6,000 women prisoners were being held in the new section. In nearby Monowitz (Pol., Monowice) a third camp was built, which was called Auschwitz III (Buna-Monowitz). The name Buna derived from the Buna synthetic-rubber works in Monowitz. Other subcamps affiliated with Monowitz were set up, and they too were included as part of Auschwitz III. In the course of time, another forty-five subcamps were built. Auschwitz II (Birkenau), which was the most populated camp of the Auschwitz complex, also had the most cruel and inhuman conditions. The prisoners of the Birkenau camps were mostly Jews, Poles and Germans. For a time, the Gypsy family camp and the family camp of the Gzech Jews were located there. In Birkenau the gas chambers and the crematoria of the Auschwitz killing center operated. [...] Prisoners were registered and received numbers tattooed on their left arm upon leaving the quarantine in Birkenau for forced labor in Auschwitz or in one of the subcamps. The same procedure applied to those prisoners who were directed straight to Auschwitz I; 405,000 prisoners of different nationalities were registered in this way. Not included in any form of registration were the vast majority of the Auschwitz victims, those men and women who, upon arrival in Auschwitz II, were led to the gas chambers and killed there immediately. Also not included in the registration were those prisoners who were sent to work in other concentration camps not belonging to the Auschwitz system, such as Gross-Rosen or Stutthof. Still another group of unregistered prisoners were those who were designated for execution after a short stay in the camp. That group consisted mainly of hostages, Soviet army officers, and partisans. [...] On January 20, 1944, the total number of prisoners in Auschwitz was 80,839: 18, 437 in Auschwitz I; 49,114 in Auschwitz II (22,061 in the men's section and 27,053 in the women's section); and 13,288 in Auschwitz III (of whom 6,571 were in Monowitz). By July 12, 1944, 92,208 prisoners were being held, and by August 22, that number had risen to 105,168. In addition, 50,000 other Jewish prisoners were held in the satellite camps. The total number of prisoners in that period was 155,000. The prison population was constantly growing, despite the periodic changes resulting from mass deaths, and despite the high mortality rate caused by starvation, hard labor, contagious diseases, and the total exhaustion of the prisoners. [...] [During November and December 1944] Some of the warehouses containing the goods stolen from the Jews were hastily emptied of their contents; the valuable items were sent to Germany by train, and the rest of the booty was destroyed. Between December 1, 1944, and January 15, 1945, no fewer than 514,843 items of men's, women's, and children's clothing and underwear were shipped from the camp. [...] On January 27 , in the afternoon, soldiers of the Soviet army entered Auschwitz. In Birkenau they found the bodies of 600 prisoners who had been killed by the Nazis hours before the camp was liberated. However, 7,650 sick and exhausted prisoners were saved: 1,200 in Auschwitz I, 5,800 in Auschwitz II - Birkenau, and 650 in Auschwitz III - Buna-Monowitz. The haste in which they had to withdraw made it impossible for the Germans to force these last prisoners on the death marches. Their hurried retreat also prevented them from emptying the rest of the warehouses of the victims' plundered property. In the warehouses, the Soviets found 350,000 men's suits, 837,000 outfits for women, and large amounts of children's and babies' clothing. In addition, they found tens of thousands of pairs of shoes and 7.7 tons (7,000 kg) of human hair in paper bags, packed for shipping. Auschwitz was the largest graveyard in human history. The number of Jews murdered in the gas chambers of Birkenau must be estimated at up to one and a half million people: men, women, and children. Almost one-quarter of the Jews killed during World War II were murdered in Auschwitz. Of the 405,000 registered prisoners who received Auschwitz numbers, only about 65,000 survived. Of the 16,000 Soviet prisoners of war who were brought there, only 96 survived. According to various estimates, at least 1,600,000 people were murdered in the killing center at Birkenau. [...] Bibliography Gilbert, M. _Auschwitz and the Allies_. New York, 1981. Gutman, Y., and A. Saf, eds. _The Nazi Concentration Camps: Structure and Aims; The Image of the Prisoner; The Jews in the Camps_. Proceedings of the Fourth Yad Vashem International Historical Conference. Jerusalem, 1984. Hoess, R. _Commandant of Auschwitz_. London, 1959. Kielar, W. _Anus Mundi: Fifteen Hundred Days in Auschwitz-Birkenau_. New York, 1980. Kraus, O., and E. Kulka. _The Death Factory: Documents on Auschwitz_. New York, 1966. Langbein, H. _Auschwitz-Process: Eine Dokumentation_. 2 vols. Vienne, 1965. Langbein, H. _Menschen in Auschwitz_. Vienna, 1972. Levi, P. _Survival in Auschwitz: The Nazi Assault on Humanity_. New York, 1981. Lukowski, J. _Bibliografia obozu koncentracyjnego Oswiecim-Brzezinka_. 5 vols. Warsaw, 1970. Mark, B. _The Scrolls of Auschwitz_. Tel Aviv, 1985.
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