Established May 26, 1940. First commandant: Rudolf
Hess, previously commandant of Sachsenhausen. Highest number of iates,
including sub-camps: 155,000.
The Auschwitz complex was divided in three major
camps: Auschwitz I
main camp or Stammlager; Auschwitz II, or Birkenau,
established on October 8th, 1941 as a 'Vernichtungslager' (extermination
camp); Auschwitz III or Monowitz, established on May 31th,
1942 as an 'Arbeitslager' or work camp; also several subcamps (see The
List of the Camps for a complete list of those subcamps). There were up
to seven gas chambers using Zyklon-B poison gas and three crematoria.
Auschwitz II included a camp for new arrivals and those to be sent on to
labor elsewhere; a Gypsy camp; a family camp; a camp for holding and
sorting plundered goods and a women's camp. Auschwitz III provided slave
labor for a major industrial plant run by I G Farben for producing
synthetic rubber (see Blechhammer). The estimated number of deaths: 2.1
to 2.5 million killed in gas chambers, of whom about 2 million were
Jews, and Poles, Gypsies and Soviet POWs (This estimated number of death
is considered by historians as a strict minimum. The real number of
death is unknown but probably much higher, maybe 4 millions). About
330,000 deaths from other causes.
In April 1940, Rudolph Hess, who become the first
commandant, identified the Silesian town of Oswiecim as a possible site
for a concentration camp. The function of the camp was initially to
intimidate Poles and prevent resistance to German rule. It was also
perceived as a cornerstone of the policy to re-colonize Upper Silesia,
which had once been a German region, with "pure Aryans." On April 27th,
Himmler ordered construction of the camp.
K.L. Auschwitz: prisoner # 31849. Her name and the date
of the photo are unknown.
In May 1940, Poles were evicted from the vicinity of
the barracks (most of them were executed), and a work crew comprising
concentration camp prisoners was sent from Sachsenhausen. 300 Jews from
the large Jewish community of Oswiecim were also pressed into service.
The first transport of prisoners, almost all Polish
civilians, arrived in June 1940 and the SS administration and staff was
established. On March 1th, 1941, the camp population was 10,900. The
camp quickly developed a reputation for torture and mass shootings.
Himmler visited Auschwitz in March 1941 and commanded
its enlargement to hold 30,000 prisoners. Himmler also ordered the
construction of a second camp for 100,000 iates on the site of the
village of Brzezinka (Birkenau), roughly 4km from the main camp. This
massive camp was intended to be filled with captured Russian POWs who
would provide the slave labor to build the SS "utopia" in Upper Silesia.
The chemical giant I G Farben expressed an interest in utilizing this
labor force, too. Extensive construction work began in October 1941,
under terrible conditions and with massive loss of life. About 10,000
Russian POWs died in the process.
The main camp population grew from 18,000 in December
1942 to 30,000 in March 1943. In July or August 1941, Himmler briefed
Hess about the "Final Solution." On September 3th, 1941, Soviet POWs at
the Auschwitz main camp were used in trials of the poison gas Zyklon-B.
This poison gas was produced by the German company "Degesch" (Deutsche
Gesellschaft zur Schadlingsbekampfung). The were gassed in underground
cells in Block 11. After this trial, a gas chamber was rigged-up just
outside the main camp and in February 1942, two temporary gas chambers
opened at Birkenau. The crematories were built by the German company
"Topf & son" located at Erfurt.
In March 1942, a women's camp is established at
Auschwitz with 6,000 iates. In August 1942, it was moved to Birkenau.
By January 1944, 27,000 women were living in Birkenau, in section B1a,
in separated quarters.
In February 1943, a section for Gypsies was
established at Birkenau, camp BIIe, and in September 1943 an area was
reserved for Czech Jews deported from Theresienstadt, the so-called
"Family Camp," BIIb. The gas chambers and crematoria opened in March