Auschwitz - Nazi concentration and labor camp

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The Nazi labor and concentration camps known collectively as Auschwitz were built close to the Polish settlement of Oswiecim. With the capacity to house more than 140,000 prisoners at once, it was the biggest Nazi execution camp in all of Europe. The Nazis built a three-part structure in 1940, which they continued to use until it was destroyed in 1945. The majority of those murdered in Auschwitz were Jews, with estimates of their numbers ranging from 2 to 4 million (Nowicka-Krawczyk, elazna-Wieczorek, Otlewska, Koziróg, Rajkowska, Piotrowska,... & ydzik-Biaek, 2014). The greater part of prisoners who were held in Auschwitz lost their lives in gas chambers although many died from forced labor, shooting squads, disease, atrocious medical experiments, and starvation.

Currently, the word Auschwitz is associated with The Holocaust, genocide, and terror. Even though the withdrawing Nazi partially destroyed the site in 1945, it has been re-established as a museum that will help future generations to understand the killings committed in Auschwitz. An estimated number of over thirty million people had visited the camp while in 2014 a record of 1.5 million people had visited Auschwitz complex and museum. The number of visitors to the site has been increasing year by year.

Polish Barracks

In the beginning, Auschwitz camp was a Polish barrack initially known as stammlager. This is where the training was conducted. It later became a camp for the Polish political prisoners inclusive of some Jews too. German common criminals were locked in this camp too; their work was to assist the Nazis in supervising other prisoners. The first people to be brought to this camp were 728 inmates who were mostly university students from Gestapo prison at Tarnow, Poland. Among them too were Jewish people who were among the members of Polish resistance. The Polish army never surrendered nor signed any deal with the Germans. Thus they continued fighting World War II but as illegal fighters not as soldiers. As they were fighting, most of these Polish soldiers were captured and sent to concentration camps similar to Auschwitz, Dachau, and Buchenwald. The prisoners who arrived in 1940 were in companion of Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, an 18-year boy who later became Poland's foreign minister. He pioneered German-Polish reconciliation during his tenure (Harries, 2016).

German Occupation

In the early 1940s, Polish civilians were rounded by German authorities and deported them to German farms to work as forced laborers. After neglecting the so captured Polish soldiers to die desperately as prisoners of war, the Germans decided to deploy the soviet forced laborers in their farms housing them at concentration camps. In between 1942 and 1944, around three millions of Soviet civilians were deported to Germany by the Nazis. They also deported many other people from all over Europe to work as forced laborers (Harries, 2016).

Any worker that could be found sleeping or avoiding working to the expected capacity could be annihilated to death. There were was no mercy for anyone. This was by the agreement of 1943 between Himmler and the Ministry of Justice. The destiny of the prisoners was to die at work that is why they were not provided with enough food, they had inadequate sanitation facilities, and were overworked in the farms and construction sites. This method ensured that their lifespan in the concentration camps does not exceed four months.

Between 1942 and 1943, Germany faced a decrease in the labor force. The death rates in the camps had gone high, and Germany could not manage to provide other people to the camps. This was due to their diminishing power in war. Despite the decrease in death rates in the concentration camps in the summers of 1943-1944, the prisoners continued to die in large numbers. After Germany’s defeat in the war, the mortality rate increased, and almost all the inmates died.

Auschwitz Expansion

Himmler visited Auschwitz in March 1941 and gave a directive for enlargement of the camp to enable it to hold 30,000 prisoners. It was located in central Germany and was convenient for transportation and was also near the rail lines. This advantage was the major thinking behind Nazi plan to enlarge Auschwitz and commence deportation of people from all over Europe. Only one camp, Auschwitz I had been established. Later, Auschwitz II and Auschwitz III were developed.

Auschwitz I

This was the original camp and was first suggested as a concentration camp for Polish prisoners. Bach-Zelewski was searching for a place to house inmates in the Silesia region because local prisons were full. The former Sachsenhausen concentration camp commandant Walter Eisfeld was sent by Richard Glucks, the head of concentration camps inspectorate to inspect the site which was a building that initially served as Polish army barracks and later for temporary workers. The site was approved by Himmler in 1940 with the intention of using the place for holding prisoners. The development of the camp was overseen by Rudolf Höss who also served as the first commandant with Joseph Kramer as his deputy. It later became the managerial hub for the whole complex.

Local people including those who lived near the barracks were evicted. In early 1940, around 17,000 Jews and polish people were expelled from places that were adjacent to the camp. Poles also were ordered by Germans to get out from villages of Brzezinka, Broszkowice, Pławy, Babice, Buddy, and Harmeze to the general government. Tax concessions other benefits were offered to German people who would relocate to the area. This encouraged many Germans to move, and by October 1943, many of them had arrived. Nazis come up with a plan of building a modern residential area for the incoming Germans; this included playing fields, schools, and other amenities (Rajkowska, Otlewska, Koziróg, Piotrowska, Nowicka-Krawczyk, Hachułka,... & Żydzik-Białek, 2014). Some of these schemes were implemented while others were not fully implemented. There was the inadequacy of basic amenities such as water and sewage disposal; this led to an outbreak of water-borne diseases.

The first prisoners who arrived in May 1940 had an intention of acting as functionaries in the prison system. The first transport to Auschwitz concentration camp that had an inclusion of Catholic prisoners, alleged resistance members, and 20 Tarnow prison Jews arrived on June 1940. They were locked in the past Polish tobacco monopoly building until the camp was ready.

The prisoner’s population grew at a faster rate as the camp took in the Poland’s dissidents and intelligentsia as well as the Polish underground resistance. By March 1941, more than 10,000 people with most of them being Polish had been imprisoned there. By the end of 1940, much land had been confiscated to create a 40-kilometer “zone of interest." This area was surrounded by barbed electric wires. The gate for Auschwitz I had the motto "Arbeit Macht Frei" which meant “work brings freedom”. This motto was displayed on all Nazi concentration camps’ gates.

Auschwitz II

Its construction began in October 1941, and the purpose of the building was to ease congestion in the main field. Himmler planned the camp to house prisoners of war who were around 50,000 in number. These prisoners would be locked up as enforced laborers. The first plan was to house 150,000 and later was to shift to 200,000 inmates. The first batch of around 10,000 soviet prisoners of war set their foot in Auschwitz I in October 1941, however only 945 of them were alive by March 1942. These 945 prisoners were taken to Auschwitz II where also most of them died of starvation or diseases by may. By this time, Himmler had decided to murder the Jewish. More than one million Jews were sent to this camp in its existence (Koziróg, Otlewska, Piotrowska, Rajkowska, Nowicka-Krawczyk, Hachułka,... & Żakowska, 2014).

The chief constructor of this camp, Karl Bischoff, was more competent than his predecessor. He managed the construction work despite the war that was going on. He planned for each constructed barrack to have a capacity off holding 550 prisoners at the same time; this was later rescheduled to 744 people per barrack. These barracks were designed to destroy people (Miszczyk, Szocinski, & Darowicki, 2016).

The first gas chamber at Auschwitz II was called "the red house." This was a brick cottage that was modified to gassing facility. Another gas chamber called “the white house” was constructed some weeks later. These gas chambers were used in killings up to December 1943. In July 1942, Himmler visited the camp in person, and the gas killing was demonstrated to him. The gassing capacity of Auschwitz crematorium II was increased by the Nazis in 1943. This had been designed as a mortuary with the incinerator sat the basement. This saw the consequent construction of crematorium III, IV, and later V. All these crematoria were used in the killing process.

All the Roma and Sinti were sent to the concentration camps including Auschwitz through an order from Himmler in December 1942. A separate field known as Zigeunerfamilienlager was set up for the Roma. About 1700 of the Roma and Polish Sinti were suspected to have spotted fever and, thus, were killed in the gas chambers. Gypsy prisoners were mainly used for construction work. Many died of malnutrition, poor sanitary condition, and overcrowding in the camps. Himmler cleared the camp in August 1944, and the remaining population was killed in the gas chamber. This murder of the roman people is what is known as Parajmos in the Romani language (Miszczyk, Szocinski, & Darowicki, 2016).

Auschwitz III

To manufacture the chemicals that were essential for the war, a site was reached where the plant could be set. This site was near to Auschwitz I, thus, an advantage as cheap labor would be obtained from the concentration camp. The site was also near the railway line easing transportation processes as it would be easy to access raw materials (Koziróg et al., 2014). An order was released by Himmler in February 1941 calling for the expulsion of the Jewish people from Oswiecim town and allow for space for the laborers. The Polish that were able to work were to remain in town and forced to work in the factory. Himmler visited the site and ordered for the expansion of mother camp to house 30,000 persons. This saw the construction of the plant six months later. About 35,000 of prisoners worked at the plant, and a good number of them died in the process (Nowicka-Krawczyk et al., 2014). These people were killed due to mainly diseases and malnutrition. The company also employed slave laborers from all over Europe. At the start of the construction work, laborers had to move long distance so as to reach the site in time. This saw the construction of another camp, Auschwitz III, that would be used in housing these inmates. The prisoners also worked on the construction site forcefully (Sofsky, 2013). Camp administrators were paid for the labor that was offered by these prisoners. As the prisoners were not working according to the supervisor's expectations, they received constant threats that they would be killed in gas chambers if they cannot increase the productivity. Prisoner’s population was being reduced by nearly a fifth each month through deaths in the gas chambers. The killed inmates were being replaced by the new arrivals. The life span of inmates was approximately three months. The plant was expected to start working immediately but it faced challenges such as the lack of raw materials and enough labor. This led to the postponement of the operations until it was taken over by the Soviet troops in mid-1945.

The Death Camp

The majority of people who arrived at Auschwitz were sent to the left. These were people chosen for death. None of the inmates knew of what awaited them. It was kept as a secret from them because it was known that if they knew, they would fight back. When collecting the victims, the Nazis promised them jobs, and upon arrival, they were told that first they had to be disinfected and have showers. That is how they landed in trouble (Rajkowska et al., 2014).

They were told to remove all the clothes and enter a big room that even had fake shower heads. Behind their thoughts, they believed that they were entering shower room as it appeared. The door would then be shut, and a Nazi would pour nylon-B pellets into an opening on the roof. These pellets once in contact with the air turned into poisonous gas. This gas killed quickly but not instantly. This is when the victims would discover that it was not a shower but a toxic gas chamber. They would cry, jump, scratch the wall, and try hard to hit the door to open but nothing could happen to rescue them.

Once it was confirmed that all the people in the room had died, prisoners assigned the duty of removing the bodies and airing the room would fulfill their responsibility. These bodies would be searched for gold before being placed into the crematoria. Auschwitz I did not have a gas chamber, thus, the mass murder was carried out in Auschwitz II’s Birkenau four main gates houses. Each of these gas chambers had its crematorium and could kill over 5000 people per day.

Cover Up Plans

Today, despite the available evidence of the crimes that were committed at the Auschwitz, it is being denied from being an extermination camp. They try to explain away the evidence that shows the wicked activities of Auschwitz. There has been much documentary evidence that puts open those evil activities that were carried out by Auschwitz. Mostly, these deniers pay focus to the annihilation camp run by Nazis at Auschwitz.

Although the Germans made an effort to hide any information about the gassing unit from being known, sometimes it could slip out sometimes in the upper echelons. Evidence can be traced in the letter that was written by Captain Bischoff in 1943. This letter was directed to the officials in Berlin regarding crematorium 2 which he referred to as Vergasungskeller meaning gassing cellar (Sofsky, 2013). Crematoria 4 and 5 architectural drawings can be found in Auschwitz archives. There are also remains of 30x40 cm windows which were gas tight. Additionally, there are remnants of gas tight seals which are visible around the edges. Moreover, the window handlers are outside; this shows that it was a person outside the room to decide whether to open for those inside or not.

Another argument brought forward by the deniers is that the gassing chambers in reality morgues or delousing chambers. This claim is contrary to the documentary evidence. In a letter, it is found that Bischoff referred to a “gas tight” door for crematorium 2, this door was to be fitted with a rubber sealing tip and a hole that will allow for inspection. These deniers have failed to explain why the door had a peephole.

Additionally, it is claimed that the purpose of gas chambers was to act as air-raid shelters. This claim fails to explain why the rooms were too small and at a distant place from guards’ squatters (Rajkowska et al., 2014). Besides, the doors enclosing the chambers had a metal grill from the inside. This was basically to protect the glass from being broken by the inmates. This is the opposite of where it was to be if it were for an air-raid shelter.

The deniers want to debate the existence of Auschwitz as being a historical event. They want to be seen as rightful scholars arguing a historical point. They seek attention to speak about what they refer to as the other side of the issue. Though these “legitimate” scholars argue about Auschwitz being a myth, the available evidence betrays them.


In conclusion, at the end of war, millions of displaced non-Germans including thousands of Jews who were survivors remained in Germany. This was a legacy left by the efforts of Nazis in forced recruitment. Auschwitz was approached by Soviet troops in January 1945. The prisoners were released and allowed to march to the city of Wodzisław. Over 15000 people died during the journey. The entrance of Soviet army into Auschwitz gave the prisoners a breath as more than 7,000 prisoners were liberated from the camp. Most of these prisoners were ill and dying. Auschwitz was the biggest camp to be established by the Germans. It consisted of concentration, forced labor, and extermination camp. After a long war, Auschwitz commander, Rudolf Hoss, was arrested and sentenced to death. On his trial time, Rudolf Hoss wrote an account that pointed out parts of his life, inclusive his moments at Auschwitz.


Harries, K. (2016). Dark Tourism: An investigation into students’ motivations for visiting locations of death and disaster, using the case studies of Ground Zero and WWII concentration camp Auschwitz. Doctoral dissertation, Cardiff Metropolitan University, Cardiff, United Kingdom.

Koziróg, A., Otlewska, A., Piotrowska, M., Rajkowska, K., Nowicka-Krawczyk, P., Hachułka, M., ... & Żakowska, Z. (2014). Colonising organisms as a biodegradation factor affecting historical wood materials at the former concentration camp of Auschwitz II–Birkenau. International Biodeterioration & Biodegradation, 86, 171-178.

Miszczyk, A., Szocinski, M., & Darowicki, K. (2016). Corrosivity of environment and the current state of the steel elements at the former Auschwitz concentration camp. Studies in Conservation, 1-9.

Nowicka-Krawczyk, P., Żelazna-Wieczorek, J., Otlewska, A., Koziróg, A., Rajkowska, K., Piotrowska, M., ... & Żydzik-Białek, A. (2014). Diversity of an aerial phototrophic coating of historic buildings in the former Auschwitz II-Birkenau concentration camp. Science of the Total Environment, 493, 116-123.

Rajkowska, K., Otlewska, A., Koziróg, A., Piotrowska, M., Nowicka-Krawczyk, P., Hachułka, M., ... & Żydzik-Białek, A. (2014). Assessment of biological colonization of historic buildings in the former Auschwitz II-Birkenau concentration camp. Annals of Microbiology, 64(2), 799-808.

Sofsky, W. (2013). The order of terror: The concentration camp. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

June 26, 2023

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