- AUSCHWITZ 2013 -

Introduction

LINKS BELOW are to pages in the Auschwitz site and to the Colin Day Travelling Days series:

     1 : Auschwitz Introduction
     2 : Auschwitz I
     3 : Auschwitz II Birkenau
     4 : Aerial Photograph
HOME PAGE : AUSCHWITZ
HOME PAGE : Colin Day's Links


On a significantly dull and rainy morning in 2013 a coach party organised by the UK tour company, Riviera Travel, approaches the Auschwitz concentration camps by road and, for a while, travels beside the main railway line from Krakow to Austria in the region of the town of Oswiecem (Auschwitz).

Here several rail tracks diverge from the main line and these became highly significant as a means by which over a million people were transported to their deaths during the years that Auschwitz became notorious.

The following (edited) account of the history of Auschwitz I and II has been mainly obtained for this website from Wikipedia. Other sources used in this website are acknowledged within the text.

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.

Auschwitz II - Birkenau went on to become a major site of the Nazi 'Final Solution to the Jewish question'. From early 1942 until late 1944, transport trains delivered Jews from all over German occupied Europe to the camp's gas chambers where they were killed with the cyanide based compound, Zyklon-B.

At least 1.1 million prisoners died at Auschwitz, around 90 per cent of them Jewish. Approximately 1 in 6 Jews that were killed in the Holocaust died at the camp.

Others deported to Auschwitz included 150,000 Poles, 23,000 Roma and Sinti, 15,000 Soviet prisoners of war, 400 Jehovah's Witnesses, and tens of thousands of other people of diverse nationalities. Living conditions were brutal, and many of those not killed in the gas chambers died of starvation, forced labour, infectious diseases, individual executions and medical experiments. Prisoners able to work were walked or were transported to and from local industries such as the fuel and rubber factory at nearby Monowitz run by I. G. Farben.

In the course of the war, the camp was staffed by 6,500 to 7,000 members of the German Schutzstaffel (SS), approximately 15 per cent of whom were later convicted of war crimes. Some, including camp commandant Rudolf Höess, were executed.

Only 144 prisoners are known to have successfully escaped Auschwitz. Also, on 7 October 1944, two Sonderkommando units (prisoners who had been assigned to staff the gas chambers) launched a brief but unsuccessful uprising.

In November 1944, with the Soviet Red Army approaching through Poland, Himmler ordered gassing operations to cease across the Reich. Crematoria II, III, and IV (in Auschwitz II Birkenau) were dismantled, while Crematorium I (in Auschwitz I) was transformed into an air raid shelter.

The Sonderkommando were ordered to remove other evidence of the killings, including the mass graves. The SS destroyed written records, and in the final week before the camp's liberation, burned or detonated many of its buildings.

Himmler ordered the evacuation of all camps in January 1945, charging camp commanders with 'making sure that not a single prisoner from the concentration camps falls alive into the hands of the enemy'. On 17 January 58,000 Auschwitz detainees were evacuated under guard, largely on foot. Thousands of them died in the subsequent death march west.  Approximately 20,000 Auschwitz prisoners made it to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany where they were liberated by the British in April 1945.

Those too weak or sick to walk (about 7,500 prisoners) were left behind and 600 of these died or were murdered before the 322nd Rifle Division of the Red Army liberated the camp on January 27. Among the items found by the Russians were 370,000 men's suits, 837,000 women's garments, and about 7 tons of human hair.

January 27 is now commemorated as 'International Holocaust Remembrance Day'. In the following decades, survivors such as Primo Levi, Viktor Frankl and Elie Wiesel wrote memoirs of their experiences in Auschwitz. The camp has become a dominant symbol of the Holocaust.

In 1947 Poland founded a museum on the site of Auschwitz I and II and, in 1979, it was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.



If you have accessed this page directly and not through the Home Page you will have missed some important comments about this site, its author, and about the Holocaust.   Would you please, therefore, click on the link at the top of this page : HOME PAGE : AUSCHWITZ.   Thank you!

N.B. Links to pages on this website which describe various sections of Auschwitz in more detail may also be found above.

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