The Nazi concentration camps began to be built in Germany in 1933. From then on, they became with increasing frequency the unswerving destination for the opponents to Hitler’s regime, the Jews and every other person deemed by Nazi soldiers as an ‘undesirable element’ (for such disparate reasons as listening to a forbidden radio station or being a communist).
Original plans for one of the barracks in the Auschwitz II-Birkenau death camp. © Yad Vashem.
After World War II was declared, Germany began to install these camps in its occupied territories throughout Europe and ordered, at the same time, the deportation of prisoners from other lands.
Auschwitz was the most lethal (1,1 million people were murdered there) of the thousands of camps built and operated by Nazi Germany and its collaborators. The compound was also the largest of all. Its forty square kilometres zone of interest were home to the three main elements that made up the Nazi camps system (which were only a part of the camp):
Besides, almost 50 subcamps and external commands to exploit the prisoners as slaves were established in 1942-1944 in the vicinity of Auschwitz.
The burning capacity of the crematoria in Birkenau was -according to the Topf and Soehne company records-more than 4,000 copses a day. People were murdered by means only of the Zyklon B pest-killer in the gas chambers. During its most frenzied periods, in the Spring of 1944, the number of murdered reached 10,000 a day.
Its location, 60 kilometres West of Kraków, in an area surrounded by forests and marshes that was also an important railway hub was by no means a coincidence. No single element in the Nazi extermination machinery was.
Today’s appearance of the barbed-wire fences, formerly electrified, of Auschwitz concentration camp. © Szymon Kaczmarczyk.