The history of Auschwitz - Memory makes us free

The history of Auschwitz

Auschwitz (Konzentrationslager Auschwitz), a name to which memories and feelings of terror, destruction and death are associated all over the world, was opened in 1940, in the town of Oswiecim, in south-western Poland occupied by the Nazis, and was initially only one of the thousands concentration camps scattered throughout Europe, dedicated to Polishes imprisonment.

Auschwitz camp was actually divided into more than 40 sub-camps; the first, known as Auschwitz I, was housed in the buildings of Polish barracks, and hosted up to 20,000 prisoners.

Auschwitz 1
The buildings of Auschwitz I, 1944 – Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum and Memorial –

The second, Auschwitz II – Birkenau, was built three km from Oswiecim, near a birch forest (birken = birch), in an unhealthy and marshy expanse, and designed to house over 100,000 prisoners; it’s here that most of the gas chambers and crematory ovens were built, and it’s therefore in Birkenau that the greatest number of Jews were killed and deported. Starting in 1942, following Himmler’s direct instructions, it became the largest extermination center in which to carry out the “Final Solution”, that is, the elimination of the “Jewish race”.

Overview of Auschwitz II Birkenau’s interior
Auschwitz 2 Birkenau
Aerial shot of Auschwitz II made by the Russian air force – Auschwitz-Birkenau museum and memorial –
Ripresa aerea di Auschwitz 2
Aerial shot of Auschwitz II taken by the allied air force in the summer of 1944 – Auschwitz Birkenau Museum and Memorial –

The largest of the Auschwitz sub-camps, essentially used as labor and concentration camps, was Monowitz – Auschwitz III (on which 40 Aussenlager – sub-camps depended), with about 10,000 prisoners 6 km from Oswiecim.

Ripresa aerea di Monowitz
Aerial shot of Monowitz taken by the allied air force in May 1944– Auschwitz Birkenau Museum and Memorial –

All the Nazi camps were completely isolated from the outside world, thanks to electrified fences and the impossibility of entering or exiting, and in the surrounding area there were buildings and structures necessary for logistical support (factories, warehouses, offices and dormitories for the SS).


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