The Auschwitz Birkenau camp complex comprises 155 brick and wooden structures (57 in Auschwitz and 98 in Birkenau) and about 300 ruins. There are also ruins of gas chambers and crematoria in Birkenau, which were dynamited in January 1945. The overall length of fencing supported by concrete poles is more than 13 km. Individual structures of high historical significance, such as railway sidings and ramps, food stores and industrial buildings, are dispersed in the immediate setting of the property. These structures, along with traces in the landscape, remain poignant testimonies to this tragic history.
The crematoria consisted of a dressing room, gas chamber, and furnace room. In crematoria II and III, the dressing room and gas chamber were underground; in IV and V, they were on the ground floor. The dressing room had numbered hooks on the wall to hang clothes. In crematorium II, there was also a dissection room (Sezierraum). SS officers told the victims they were to take a shower and undergo delousing. The victims undressed in the dressing room and walked into the gas chamber, which was disguised as a shower facility; signs in German said "To the baths" and "To disinfection". Some inmates were even given soap and a towel.
The superior race was the "Aryans," the Germans. The word Aryan, "derived from the study of linguistics, which started in the eighteenth century and at some point determined that the Indo-Germanic (also known as Aryan) languages were superior in their structures, variety, and vocabulary to the Semitic languages that had evolved in the Near East. This judgment led to a certain conjecture about the character of the peoples who spoke these languages; the conclusion was that the 'Aryan' peoples were likewise superior to the 'Semitic' ones" (Leni Yahil, The Holocaust: The Fate of European Jewry, New York: Oxford University Press, 1990, p. 36).
He began by turning his factory into an official subcamp of a newly constructed labor camp at Plazów. For a time, it was a haven for about 500 Jews. Then, in the fall of 1944, the Nazis ordered both camps closed and all workers shipped to Auschwitz, a killing center. Schindler refused to let that happen. He put together a list of 1,100 men, women, and children that he claimed as his workers. He then used his money and influence to transport those workers to a new factory he was building at Brinnlitz, Czechoslovakia. When the Jewish women who worked in his factory were transported to Auschwitz by mistake, he accomplished the impossible: he managed to get the women back by offering Nazi officials a fortune in bribes.
took unlimited advantage of their power. They could beat us, torture us, even kill us without having to answer to anyone. Those who could not take this treatment threw themselves into the electric fence. These suicides built up the rage of our tormentors even more. One day, when the number of musicians who had killed themselves the night before was higher than usual, they called us all together and said 'sons of whores, I warn you all, if you keep leaping into the electric wire, I will kill you all like dogs'.
A column of inmates reached the Gross-Rosen complex. Throughout February, the terribly overcrowded main camp at Gross-Rosen was cleared, and all 44,000 inmates were moved further west. An unknown number died in this last journey. In March 1945, Himmler ordered that no more prisoners should be killed, as he hoped to use them as hostages in negotiations with the Allies. Approximately 20,000 Auschwitz prisoners made it to Bergen-Belsen, where they were liberated by the British in April 1945.
The first “bunker,” with two sealed rooms, operated from January 1942 to the end of that year. The second, with four air tight rooms, became redundant in the spring of 1943, but remained standing and was used again in the autumn of 1944 when extra “capacity” was needed for the murder of Hungarian Jews and the liquidation of the ghettos. The second measured about 1.134 square feet. The victims murdered in the “bunkers” were first obliged to undress in temporary wooden barracks erected nearby. Their bodies were taken out of the gas chambers and pushed to pits where they were burned in the open.
By January 1945 Soviet troops were advancing towards Auschwitz. In desperation to withdraw, the Nazis sent most of the 58,000 remaining prisoners on a death march to Germany, and most prisoners were killed en route. When the Soviet army liberated Auschwitz on January 27, soldiers found only 7,650 barely living prisoners throughout the entire camp complex. In all, approximately one million Jews had been murdered there.
Within the 191.97-ha serial property – which consists of three component parts: the former Auschwitz I camp, the former Auschwitz II-Birkenau camp and a mass grave of inmates – are located the most important structures related to the exceptional events that took place here and that bear testimony to their significance to humanity. It is the most representative part of the Auschwitz complex, which consisted of nearly 50 camps and sub-camps.
The first prisoners at Auschwitz included German prisoners transferred from Sachsenhausen concentration camp in Germany, where they had been incarcerated as repeat criminal offenders, and Polish political prisoners from Lodz via Dachau concentration camp and from Tarnow in Krakow District of the Generalgouvernement (that part of German-occupied Poland not annexed to Nazi Germany, linked administratively to German East Prussia, or incorporated into the German-occupied Soviet Union).
Historians differ on the date of the decision to murder Jews systematically, the so-called “final solution to the Jewish question.” There is debate about whether there was one central decision or a series of regional decisions in response to local conditions. In either case, when Germany attacked the Soviet Union, its former ally, in June of 1941, the Nazis began the systematic killing of Jews.
In July 1943 the Wehrmacht conducted Operation Zitadelle (Citadel) against a salient at Kursk that was heavily defended by Soviet troops. Soviet defensive tactics were by now hugely improved, particularly in the use of artillery and air support. By April 1943, the Stavka had learned of German intentions through intelligence supplied by front line reconnaissance and Ultra intercepts. In the following months, the Red Army constructed deep defensive belts along the paths of the planned German attack. The Soviets made a concerted effort to disguise their knowledge of German plans and the extent of their own defensive preparations, and the German commanders still hoped to achieve operational surprise when the attack commenced.
The Roma refer to the genocide of the Romani people as the Pořajmos. Because they are traditionally a private people with a culture based on oral history, less is known about their experience than that of any other group. Bauer writes that this can be attributed to the Roma's distrust and suspicion, and to their humiliation because some of the taboos in Romani culture regarding hygiene and sex were violated at Auschwitz. In May 1942, the Roma were placed under similar laws to the Jews. On 16 December 1942, Himmler issued a decree that "Gypsy Mischlinge [mixed breeds], Roma Gypsies, and members of the clans of Balkan origins who are not of German blood" should be sent to Auschwitz, unless they had served in the Wehrmacht. He adjusted the order on 15 November 1943; in the occupied Soviet areas, "sedentary Gypsies and part-Gypsies are to be treated as citizens of the country. Nomadic Gypsies and part-Gypsies are to be placed on the same level as Jews and placed in concentration camps." Bauer argues that this adjustment reflected Nazi ideology that the Roma, originally an Aryan population, had been "spoiled" by non-Romani blood.
The prisoners working in the Kanada Kommando lived in barracks. The barracks were inside the warehouse, away from the rest of the prisoners in the camp. They were in a better position than the other inmates. They could take extra food on which to survive, a pair of shoes or extra clothing to protect themselves from the severe winter weather. Some smuggled valuables to bribe the kapos or guards. If they were caught, they were killed.
To concentrate and monitor the Jewish population as well as to facilitate later deportation of the Jews, the Germans and their collaborators created ghettos, transit camps, and forced-labor camps for Jews during the war years. The German authorities also established numerous forced-labor camps, both in the so-called Greater German Reich and in German-occupied territory, for non-Jews whose labor the Germans sought to exploit.
The prosecution entered indictments against 24 major war criminals[z] and seven organizations—the leadership of the Nazi party, the Reich Cabinet, the Schutzstaffel (SS), Sicherheitsdienst (SD), the Gestapo, the Sturmabteilung (SA) and the "General Staff and High Command". The indictments were for: participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of a crime against peace; planning, initiating and waging wars of aggression and other crimes against peace; war crimes; and crimes against humanity. The tribunal passed judgements ranging from acquittal to death by hanging. Eleven defendants were executed, including Joachim von Ribbentrop, Wilhelm Keitel, Alfred Rosenberg, and Alfred Jodl. Ribbentrop, the judgement declared, "played an important part in Hitler's 'final solution of the Jewish question'".
Adam Tooze wrote that the German economy was being prepared for a long war. The expenditure for this war was extensive and put the economy under severe strain. The German leadership were concerned less with how to balance the civilian economy and the needs of civilian consumption but to figure out how to best prepare the economy for total war. Once war had begun, Hitler urged his economic experts to abandon caution and expend all available resources on the war effort but the expansion plans only gradually gained momentum in 1941. Tooze wrote that the huge armament plans in the pre-war period did not indicate any clear-sighted blitzkrieg economy or strategy.
In 1939, shortly after the war began, the Germans initiated the T4 Program—framed euphemistically as a “euthanasia” program—for the murder of intellectually or physically disabled and emotionally disturbed Germans who by their very existence violated the Nazi ideal of Aryan supremacy. They were termed “life unworthy of life.” An economic justification was also employed as these Germans were considered “useless eaters.” The Nazis pioneered the use of gas chambers and mass crematoria under this program. The murder of the disabled was the training ground for key personnel who were to later staff the death camps of Aktion Reinhard. The German public protested these murders. The Roman Catholic bishop of Münster, Clemens August, Graf von Galen, preached against them, and the T4 program was formally halted. Nonetheless, the murder and sterilization of these German “Aryans” continued secretly throughout the war.
On 1 August 1940, Governor-General Hans Frank issued a decree requiring all Kraków Jews to leave the city within two weeks. Only those who had jobs directly related to the German war effort would be allowed to stay. Of the 60,000 to 80,000 Jews then living in the city, only 15,000 remained by March 1941. These Jews were then forced to leave their traditional neighbourhood of Kazimierz and relocate to the walled Kraków Ghetto, established in the industrial Podgórze district. Schindler's workers travelled on foot to and from the ghetto each day to their jobs at the factory. Enlargements to the facility in the four years Schindler was in charge included the addition of an outpatient clinic, co-op, kitchen, and dining room for the workers, in addition to expansion of the factory and its related office space.