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3. Auschwitz Concentration Camp (1979)
 

The strict protection zone is composed by 2 former camps, situated in Oświęcim and Brzezinka. They belong to Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum founded in 1947:

  • Auschwitz I - established by the Nazis in 1940, in the suburbs of Oświęcim, on the site of the former military garrison. It covers 20 ha and consists of 41 brick constructions, 8 wooden buildings and 8 concrete structures;
  • Auschwitz II - Birkenau - erected in 1941, on the territory of Brzezinka village, 3 km from Oświęcim. The local population was evicted and their homes were demolished. 47 brick buildings, as well as 22 wooden and 27 concrete barracks, including 4 crematoriums with the installation facilities and 2 sewage treatment systems were set up in that new camp. In January 1945, the Nazis troupes evacuated the site by they had no time left to destroy it - the ruins of gas chambers can be still found there.

Following the German occupation of Poland in September 1939, Oświęcim was incorporated into Germany as part of the Katowice District (Regierungsbezirk Kattowitz) and renamed Auschwitz. The word Birkenau means 'Birch tree' of which there are many surrounding the Birkenau area of the complex.

 

The complex consisted of 3 main camps:

·        Auschwitz I, the concentration camp which served as the administrative centre for the whole complex, and was the site of the deaths of roughly 70,000 people, mostly Poles and Soviet prisoners of war.

·        Auschwitz II (Birkenau), an extermination camp (Vernichtungslager), where at least 960,000 Jews, 75,000 Poles, and 19,000 Roma (Gypsies) were killed.

·        Auschwitz III (Monowitz), a labor camp for the Buna-Werke factory of the I.G. Farben concern.

There were also around 40 satellite camps, some of them tens of kilometers from the main camps, with prisoner populations ranging from several dozen to several thousand. The camp commandant, Rudolf Höss, testified at the Nuremberg Trials that up to 2.5 million people had died at Auschwitz. The Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum revised this figure in 1990, and new calculations now place the figure at 1.1–1.6 million, about 90 % of whom were Jews from almost every country in Europe. Most victims were killed in gas chambers using Zyklon B; other deaths were caused by systematic starvation, forced labour, lack of disease control, individual executions, and so-called medical experiments.

 

Auschwitz I - administrative centre for the whole complex. It was founded on May 20, 1940 - a group of 728 Polish political prisoners from Tarnów became the first residents of Auschwitz on June 14 that year. The camp was initially used for interning Polish intellectuals and resistance movement members, then also for Soviet Prisoners of War. Common German criminals, "anti-social elements" and 48 German homosexuals were also imprisoned there. Jews were sent to the camp as well, beginning with the very first shipment (from Tarnów). At any time, the camp held between 13,000 and 16,000 inmates; in 1942 the number reached 20,000. The entrance to Auschwitz I was - and still is - marked with the sign “Arbeit Macht Frei”, or “work makes (one) free”. The camp's prisoners who left the camp during the day for construction or farm labor were made to march through the gate to the sounds of an orchestra. Contrary to what is depicted in several films, the majority of the Jews were imprisoned in the Auschwitz II camp, and did not pass under this sign.

 

The harsh work requirements, combined with poor nutrition and hygiene, led to high death rates among the prisoners. Block 11 of Auschwitz (the original standing cells and such were block 13) was the "prison within the prison", in which there were "standing-cells" (about 1.5 metres square for 4 men), "starvation cells" (neither food nor water were given until prosoners were dead); "dark cells" (with a very tiny window, and a solid door, lack of oxygen). The execution yard is between blocks 10 and 11 for individual executions.

On September 3, 1941, deputy camp commandant SS-Hauptsturmführer Fritzsch experimented on 600 Russian POWs and 250 ill Polish inmates by cramming them into the basement of Block 11 and gassing them with Zyklon B, a highly lethal cyanide based pesticide. This paved the way for the use of Zyklon B as an instrument for extermination at Auschwitz, and a gas chamber and crematorium were constructed by converting a bunker. Dr. Josef Mengele, who is well known for his experiments on twins and dwarfs in the same complex, was the camp "doctor". He regularly performed gruesome experiments such as castration without anesthetics. Prisoners in the camp hospital who were not quick to recover were regularly killed by a lethal injection of phenol.

 

Construction on Auschwitz II (Birkenau) began in October 1941 to ease congestion at the main camp. It was designed to hold several categories of prisoners, and to function as an extermination camp in the context of Himmler’s  preparations for the Final Solution of the Jewish Question. It was larger than Auschwitz I, and more people passed through its gates. It was the site of imprisonment and of the killing of over one million people, mainly Jews but also large numbers of Poles, and Gypsies, mostly through gassing. Birkenau had 4 gas chambers, designed to resemble showers, and 4 crematoria, used to incinerate bodies.

By 1943 resistance organizations had developed in the camp. These organizations helped a few prisoners escape; In October 1944 a group of sonderkommandos destroyed one of the crematoria at Birkenau. They and their accomplices, a group of women from the Monowitz labor camp, were all put to death.

 

When the Soviet army liberated Auschwitz on January 27, 1945, they found about 7,600 survivors abandoned there. More than 58,000 prisoners had already been evacuated by the Nazis and sent on a final death march to Germany. After the war the camp served until 1947 as an NKVD and MBP prison camp. In 1947, in remembrance of the victims, Poland founded a museum at the site of the Auschwitz concentration camp. By 1994, some 22 million visitors - 700,000 annually - had passed through the iron gate crowned with the motto "Arbeit macht frei". In 1979, the newly elected Polish Pope John Paul II celebrated Mass on the grounds of Auschwitz II to some 500,000 people.

 

Recently Poland authorities have voiced objections to the use of the expression "Polish death camp" in relation to Auschwitz, as that phrase might misleadingly suggest that Poles (rather than Germans) perpetrated the Holocaust. On 1 April 2006 Polish government requested that UNESCO change the name from "Auschwitz Concentration Camp" to "Former Nazi German Concentration Camp Auschwitz-Birkenau" to emphasize that the camp was run by German Nazis and not by Poles. On 28 June 2007 the United Nations World Heritage Committee officially announced that the new name is Auschwitz Birkenau. German Nazi Concentration and Extermination Camp (1940-1945).





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