The property is protected by Polish law under the provisions of heritage protection and spatial planning laws, together with the provisions of local law. The site, buildings and relics of the former Auschwitz Birkenau camp are situated on the premises of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, which operates under a number of legal Acts concerning the operation of museums and protection of the Former Nazi Extermination Camps, which provide that the protection of these sites is a public objective, and its fulfilment is the responsibility of the State administration. The Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum is a State cultural institution supervised directly by the Minister of Culture and National Heritage, who ensures the necessary financing for its functioning and the fulfillment of its mission, including educational activities to understand the tragedy of the Holocaust and the need to prevent similar threats today and in future. The Museum has undertaken a long-term programme of conservation measures under its Global Conservation Plan. It is financed largely through funds from the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation, which is supported by states from around the world, as well as by businesses and private individuals. The Foundation has also obtained a State subsidy to supplement the Perpetual Fund (Act of 18 August 2011 on a Subsidy for the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation Intended to Supplement the Perpetual Fund).
On April 27, 1940, Heinrich Himmler ordered the construction of a new camp near Oswiecim, Poland (about 37 miles or 60 km west of Krakow). The Auschwitz Concentration Camp ("Auschwitz" is the German spelling of "Oswiecim") quickly became the largest Nazi concentration and death camp. By the time of its liberation, Auschwitz had grown to include three large camps and 45 sub-camps.
Auschwitz was probably chosen to play a central role in the “final solution” because it was located at a railway junction with 44 parallel tracks—rail lines that were used to transport Jews from throughout Europe to their death. Heinrich Himmler, chief of the SS, the Nazi paramilitary corps, ordered the establishment of the first camp, the prison camp, on April 27, 1940, and the first transport of Polish political prisoners arrived on June 14. This small camp, Auschwitz I, was reserved throughout its history for political prisoners, mainly Poles and Germans.
Fleeing Germans also torched a couple of dozen of the wooden barracks at Birkenau. Many of the camp buildings that were left largely intact were later taken apart by Poles desperate for shelter. Birkenau remains the starkest, most tangible, most haunting reminder of what Dwork says was the “greatest catastrophe Western civilization permitted, and endured.”
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).
On the night of 8 November, the Nazis used a patriotic rally in a Munich beer hall to launch an attempted putsch ("coup d'état"). This so-called Beer Hall Putsch attempt failed almost at once when the local Reichswehr commanders refused to support it. On the morning of 9 November, the Nazis staged a march of about 2,000 supporters through Munich in an attempt to rally support. Troops opened fire and 16 Nazis were killed. Hitler, Ludendorff and a number of others were arrested and were tried for treason in March 1924. Hitler and his associates were given very lenient prison sentences. While Hitler was in prison, he wrote his semi-autobiographical political manifesto Mein Kampf ("My Struggle").
All civilian organisations, including agricultural groups, volunteer organisations, and sports clubs, had their leadership replaced with Nazi sympathisers or party members; these civic organisations either merged with the NSDAP or faced dissolution. The Nazi government declared a "Day of National Labor" for May Day 1933, and invited many trade union delegates to Berlin for celebrations. The day after, SA stormtroopers demolished union offices around the country; all trade unions were forced to dissolve and their leaders were arrested. The Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service, passed in April, removed from their jobs all teachers, professors, judges, magistrates, and government officials who were Jewish or whose commitment to the party was suspect. This meant the only non-political institutions not under control of the NSDAP were the churches.
When the 322nd Rifle Division of the Red Army liberated Auschwitz on 27 January 1945, the soldiers found 7,500 prisoners alive and over 600 corpses. Auschwitz II-Birkenau was liberated at around 3:30 p.m., and the main camp (Auschwitz I) two hours later. Items found by the Soviet soldiers included 370,000 men's suits, 837,000 women's garments, and 7.7 tonnes (8.5 short tons) of human hair. Primo Levi described seeing the first four Russian soldiers on horseback approach the camp at Monowitz, where he had been in the sick bay. The soldiers threw "strangely embarrassed glances at the sprawling bodies, at the battered huts and at us few still alive ...":
After examining several sites for a new plant to manufacture Buna-N, a type of synthetic rubber essential to the war effort, the German chemical cartel IG Farben chose a site near the towns of Dwory and Monowice (Monowitz in German), about 7 kilometres (4.3 mi) east of Auschwitz I. Tax exemptions were available to corporations prepared to develop industries in the frontier regions under the Eastern Fiscal Assistance Law, passed in December 1940. The site had good railway connections and access to raw materials. In February 1941, Himmler ordered that the Jewish population of Oświęcim be expelled to make way for skilled laborers; that all Poles able to work remain in the town and work on building the factory; and that Auschwitz prisoners be used in the construction work.
Beller was one of 60,000 prisoners who were forced on what is now known as thedeath march of Auschwitz—part of the Nazis’ mad scramble to escape Allied forces in January 1945. As Russian and American forces closed in, the Nazis attempted to dismantle the camps and hide their crimes. But nothing could obliterate the dark truth of the death camp where they’dmurdered 1.1 million people.
I was 20, about 1.7 metres (5ft 7in) tall, blond, not bad looking and, despite the beating, in pretty good shape. When my limit in the hospital was up, they sent me to the gas chambers. There I met Dr Mengele, who asked me what was wrong. I said: “You can see, I’ve been beaten up.” Instead of sending me to the gas chambers, I was sent back to the hospital, presumably he saw the potential for labour in me. As I had trained as a tailor, he decided I had my uses there. The soldiers wanted to look nice, so they’d come to me in the hospital if they wanted their uniforms fixed up. The very fact that my new job meant I didn’t have to get up in the morning in the harsh winter in thin clothes standing around for hours for the headcount was a big thing. It meant that being a tailor saved my life.
The existing legal system provides appropriate tools for the effective protection and management of the property. The Museum Council, whose members are appointed by the Minister of Culture and National Heritage, supervises the performance of the Museum’s duties regarding its collections, in particular the execution of its statutory tasks. In addition, the International Auschwitz Council acts as a consultative and advisory body to the Prime Minister of the Republic of Poland on the protection and management of the site of the former Auschwitz Birkenau camp and other places of extermination and former concentration camps situated within the present territory of Poland.
The last days of Auschwitz, which was opened by the Nazis in Oswiecim, Poland, in 1940, were marked by chaos, cowardice and an attempt to destroy what was once one of Nazi Germany’s most efficient tools in the quest to eradicate European Jews. By late 1944, as the Allied forces of World War II wrested much of occupied Europe out of Nazi hands, it had become clear that the Nazi military—once a mighty force that had invaded and occupied most of Europe after Hitler’s rise to power in 1933—was headed toward a spectacular defeat.
The Nazis’ goal wasn’t only to destroy evidence of the camp: They had plans to force the prisoners to serve as slave laborers for the Reich. Some prisoners were stuffed into train cars to complete their journey to Germany; others escaped into the sub-zero temperatures. Of those forced to walk, some died along the way, though it remains unclear how many were killed over the course of the marches.
As Soviet troops closed in on Auschwitz in late January 1945, the SS hurriedly evacuated some 56,000 prisoners on death marches to the west, then blew up the Birkenau gas chambers and crematoria to erase evidence of the mass murders. The Red Army liberated Auschwitz on January 27, 1945. Some 6,000 people were still alive at Birkenau. Another 1,000 were found at the main camp.
Today, he is chairman of the International Auschwitz Council. Nothing, he says, can replace the actual site as a monument and memorial. “It’s great that you can go to a Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.,” he says. “But no one died in Washington in the Holocaust. Here—here is a massive cemetery without gravestones. Here they spent their last moments, here they took their last steps, here they said their last prayers, here they said goodbye to their children. Here. This is the symbol of the Holocaust.”
In October 1944, the 'Sonderkommando' crew crematoria IV revolted and destroyed the crematories. In November Himmler ordered gassings to stop, and a 'cleanup' operation was inaugurated to conceal traces of the mass murder. In January 1945, the Germans evacuated 58,000 prisoners who could walk. They left behind in the main camp, Birkenau and in Monowitz about 7,000 sick or incapacitated who they did not expect would live for long.
In 1931, Himmler organised an SS intelligence service which became known as the Sicherheitsdienst (SD; Security Service) under his deputy, Heydrich. This organisation was tasked with locating and arresting communists and other political opponents. Himmler established the beginnings of a parallel economy under the auspices of the SS Economy and Administration Head Office. This holding company owned housing corporations, factories, and publishing houses.
Hitler's conception of the Aryan Herrenvolk ("Aryan master race") excluded the vast majority of Slavs from central and eastern Europe (i.e. Poles, Russians, Ukrainians, etc.). They were regarded as a race of men not inclined to a higher form of civilization, which was under an instinctive force that reverted them back to nature. The Nazis also regarded the Slavs as having dangerous Jewish and Asiatic, meaning Mongol, influences. Because of this, the Nazis declared Slavs to be Untermenschen ("subhumans"). Nazi anthropologists attempted to scientifically prove the historical admixture of the Slavs who lived further East and leading Nazi racial theorist Hans Günther regarded the Slavs as being primarily Nordic centuries ago but he believed that they had mixed with non-Nordic types over time. Exceptions were made for a small percentage of Slavs who the Nazis saw as descended from German settlers and therefore fit to be Germanised and considered part of the Aryan master race. Hitler described Slavs as "a mass of born slaves who feel the need for a master". The Nazi notion of Slavs as inferior served as a legitimization of their desire to create Lebensraum for Germans and other Germanic people in eastern Europe, where millions of Germans and other Germanic settlers would be moved into once those territories were conquered, while the original Slavic inhabitants were to be annihilated, removed or enslaved. Nazi Germany's policy changed towards Slavs in response to military manpower shortages, forced it to allow Slavs to serve in its armed forces within the occupied territories in spite of the fact that they were considered "subhuman".
When the stock market in the United States crashed on 24 October 1929, the effect in Germany was dire. Millions were thrown out of work and several major banks collapsed. Hitler and the NSDAP prepared to take advantage of the emergency to gain support for their party. They promised to strengthen the economy and provide jobs. Many voters decided the NSDAP was capable of restoring order, quelling civil unrest, and improving Germany's international reputation. After the federal election of 1932, the NSDAP was the largest party in the Reichstag, holding 230 seats with 37.4 percent of the popular vote.
Under Nazi rule, all other political parties were banned. In 1933, the Nazis opened their first concentration camp, in Dachau, Germany, to house political prisoners. Dachau evolved into a death camp where countless thousands of Jews died from malnutrition, disease and overwork or were executed. In addition to Jews, the camp’s prisoners included members of other groups Hitler considered unfit for the new Germany, including artists, intellectuals, Gypsies, the physically and mentally handicapped and homosexuals.
By the end of the war, the number of people who had died in the concentration camps, from all causes—starvation, sickness, exhaustion, beating, shooting, gassing—was more than eight hundred thousand. The figure does not include the hundreds of thousands of Jews gassed on arrival at Auschwitz. If the K.L. were indeed a battlefront, as the Death’s-Head S.S. liked to believe, the deaths, in the course of twelve years, roughly equalled the casualties sustained by the Axis during the Battle of Stalingrad, among the deadliest actual engagements of the war. But in the camps the Nazis fought against helpless enemies. Considered as prisons, too, the K.L. were paradoxical: it was impossible to correct or rehabilitate people whose very nature, according to Nazi propaganda, was criminal or sick. And as economic institutions they were utterly counterproductive, wasting huge numbers of lives even as the need for workers in Germany became more and more acute.
Between 1933 and the fall of Nazi Germany in 1945, more than 3.5 million Germans were forced to spend time in concentration camps and prisons for political reasons, and approximately 77,000 Germans were executed for one or another form of resistance by Special Courts, courts-martial, and the civil justice system. Many of these Germans had served in government, the military, or in civil positions, which enabled them to engage in subversion and conspiracy against the Nazis.