Visitors 55
Modified 4-Mar-17
Created 2-Jan-12
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Auschwitz II–Birkenau was designated by the Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler, Germany's Minister of the Interior, as the place of the "final solution of the Jewish question in Europe". From early 1942 until late 1944, transport trains delivered Jews to the camp's gas chambers from all over German-occupied Europe. The camp's first commandant, Rudolf Höss, testified after the war at the Nuremberg Trials that up to three million people had died there (2.5 million gassed, and 500,000 from disease and starvation).
Today the accepted figure is 1.3 million, around 90 percent of them Jewish. Others deported to Auschwitz included 150,000 Poles, 23,000 Roma and Sinti, 15,000 Soviet prisoners of war, some 400 Jehovah's Witnesses and tens of thousands of people of diverse nationalities.
Those not killed in the gas chambers died of starvation, forced labor, infectious disease, individual executions, and medical experiments.
Construction on Auschwitz II-Birkenau, the extermination camp, began in October 1941 to ease congestion at the main camp. It was larger than Auschwitz I, and more people passed through its gates than through Auschwitz I. It was designed to hold several categories of prisoners, and to function as an extermination camp in the context of Heinrich Himmler's preparations for the Final Solution of the Jewish Question, the extermination of the Jews. The first gas chamber at Birkenau was "The Little Red House," a brick cottage converted into a gassing facility by tearing out the inside and bricking up the walls. It was operational by March 1942. A second brick cottage, "The Little White House," was similarly converted some weeks later. The Nazis had committed themselves to the final solution no later than January 20, 1942, the date of the Wannsee Conference. In his Nuremberg testimony on April 15, 1946, Rudolf Höss, the commandant of Auschwitz, testified that Heinrich Himmler personally ordered him to prepare Auschwitz for that purpose:
"In the summer of 1941 I was summoned to Berlin to Reichsführer-SS Himmler to receive personal orders. He told me something to the effect - do not remember the exact words - that the Fuehrer had given the order for a final solution of the Jewish question. We, the SS, must carry out that order. If it is not carried out now then the Jews will later on destroy the German people."
He had chosen Auschwitz on account of its easy access by rail and also because the extensive site offered space for measures ensuring isolation.


The first gassings, using an industrial gas derived from prussic acid and known by the brand name Zyklon-B, were carried out at Auschwitz in September 1941. In early 1943, the Nazis decided to increase greatly the gassing capacity of Birkenau. Crematorium II, originally designed as a mortuary, with morgues in the basement and ground-level furnaces, was converted into a killing factory by placing a gas-tight door on the morgues and adding vents for Zyklon-B and ventilation equipment to remove the gas. It went into operation in March. Crematorium III was built using the same design. Crematoria IV and V, designed from the start as gassing centers, were also constructed that spring. By June 1943 all four crematoria were operational. Most of the victims were killed during the period afterwards. The camp was staffed partly by prisoners, some of whom were selected to be kapos (orderlies, most of whom were convicts) and sonderkommandos (workers at the crematoria). The kapos were responsible for keeping order in the barrack huts; the sonderkommandos prepared new arrivals for gassing (ordering them to remove their clothing and surrender their personal possessions) and transferred corpses from the gas chambers to the furnaces, having first pulled out any gold that the victims might have had in their teeth. Members of these groups were killed periodically. The kapos and sonderkommandos were supervised by members of the SS; altogether 6,000 SS members worked at Auschwitz. Command of the women's camp, which was separated from the men's area by the incoming railway line, was held in turn by Johanna Langefeld, Maria Mandel, and Elisabeth Volkenrath.

Guard tower outside the perimeter fence - 16 Sep 2009

Guard tower outside the perimeter fence - 16 Sep 2009

Guard tower outside the perimeter fence - 16 Sep 2009

Guard tower outside the perimeter fence - 16 Sep 2009

Porcelain insulator - 16 Sep 2009

Porcelain insulator - 16 Sep 2009

Barbed wire - 16 Sep 2009

Barbed wire - 16 Sep 2009

Barbed wire - 16 Sep 2009

Barbed wire - 16 Sep 2009

Barbed wire and guard tower - 16 Sep 2009

Barbed wire and guard tower - 16 Sep 2009

"The Gate of Death" - 16 Sep 2009

"The Gate of Death" - 16 Sep 2009

A flimsy wooden guard tower - 16 Sep 2009

A flimsy wooden guard tower - 16 Sep 2009

Electrified fence and guard towers - 16 Sep 2009

Electrified fence and guard towers - 16 Sep 2009

Guard tower - 16 Sep 2009

Guard tower - 16 Sep 2009

The wooden barrack buildings in BIIa - 16 Sep 2009

The wooden barrack buildings in BIIa - 16 Sep 2009

Bunks in one of the wooden huts - 16 Sep 2009

Bunks in one of the wooden huts - 16 Sep 2009

Latrines in one of the wooden barracks - 16 Sep 2009

Latrines in one of the wooden barracks - 16 Sep 2009

Latrines in one of the wooden barracks - 16 Sep 2009

Latrines in one of the wooden barracks - 16 Sep 2009

Tributes left at the oven inside a hut in BIIa - 16 Sep 2009

Tributes left at the oven inside a hut in BIIa - 16 Sep 2009

The wooden barrack buildings in BIIa - 16 Sep 2009

The wooden barrack buildings in BIIa - 16 Sep 2009

Fencing around the men's camp - 16 Sep 2009

Fencing around the men's camp - 16 Sep 2009

Remains of a barracks chimney stack - 16 Sep 2009

Remains of a barracks chimney stack - 16 Sep 2009

Remains of brick chimneys - 16 Sep 2009

Remains of brick chimneys - 16 Sep 2009

Brick chimney remains on the north side of the camp - 16 Sep 2009

Brick chimney remains on the north side of the camp - 16 Sep 2009

Categories & Keywords
Category:Travel and Places
Subcategory:Europe
Subcategory Detail:Poland
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