Auschwitz I Labour camp
The concentration camp established on Polish territory was the administrative centre of a huge camp complex.
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- reception building
- electric fence
- main gate
- guard room
- gas chamber and crematorium
- SS hospital
- camp headquarters
- Commander´s house
- camp kitchen
- laundry, warehouse
- wall of death
Wall of death
The southern Polish town of Oswiecim is located west of Krakow. The town was annexed by the Third Reich in 1939 as it was expanding eastwards. Numerous concentration camps and an extermination camp were established by the Nazis in this area over the following years. The camp complex was named Auschwitz, after the German name of the town.
The centre of the camp complex was the Auschwitz I labour camp. The camp was established on a huge area in May 1940, around old military barracks built during the days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
The camp was surrounded by barbed wire fencing and concrete walls, with numerous watchtowers. It was practically impossible to pass through the security zone unnoticed.
Prisoners entered the camp through a gate with the infamous "Arbeit macht frei" (Work will set you free) motto overhead. They usually worked in the fields or at construction sites outside the camp, but the inscription awaited them every evening (with a brass band).
15-20 thousand people at a time were imprisoned there under inhumane conditions. Nazi guards and the Kapos (prisoners chosen to supervise the others) treated the (mostly Polish and Soviet) inmates at the camp brutally. After a long day, the inmates had to spend the nights in cold, almost completely unfurnished barracks. Prisoners who violated the strict camp rules were kept in the infamous Block 11 (a prison within the prison), where the first cyanide experiments were carried out that killed hundreds of people. But many also died by the concrete wall called the Wall of Death.
There were also horrible killing sites outside the fences: the gas chambers represent among the darkest chapters in the history of World War II. Thousands of people were killed by gas in the first half of the 1940s. People exterminated in the camps and gas chambers were buried inhumanely in mass graves.
The barracks for the SS guards and the Commander´s house were also outside the fences. Rudolf Hoess served as Commander until 1943. The Nazi mass murderer was hanged in 1947, next to the Auschwitz crematorium, facing the scene of his horrifying deeds.
Today, the camp complex serves as a memorial and a museum as well as a pilgrimage destination for relatives of the deceased.
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