History of Auschwitz concentration camp
The concentration camp in Oświęcim is one of the largest European cemeteries and one of … the most-visited tragic souvenirs after World War II. The post-German death factory is today a tourist attraction – paradoxically an extremely interesting attraction to which death and its bad fame attract. Although crowds of tourists come to Oświęcim today, often not understanding the message of the camp, the history of KL Auschwitz is an amazing story – about the bestiality, extermination, but also the martyrdom and heroism of prisoners.
After the September campaign, Polish territory came under brutal occupation of Germany and the Soviet Union. Millions of Poles were forced to live in constant fear, in a place where the next day was considered a success. This was due to a number of factors, the most important of which was the terror that the new partitioners brought to the occupied lands. They quickly began to think about the effective use of the mass of enslaved people. Already at the end of 1939, the first plans for the construction of a concentration camp in Oświęcim were made, where the barracks of Wehrmacht soldiers were then located. The reason for the sudden interest in this region was the fact that the prisons of Upper Silesia were overcrowded, which forced German dignitaries to look for a new place for accommodation for prisoners.
Although Oświęcim was ideally located, the head of the special commission dealing with the project initially ruled that building a concentration camp in the city was not an option. It was not until January 25, 1940, officials of the SS Office and the Police Commander in Wrocław approved the plan to build the camp. Finally, after agreeing the decision with Heinrich Himmler, on April 8, 1940, the barracks were officially handed over to the SS. The Wehrmacht’s side was represented by the general of aviation Halm. At this point, the entire planning operation gained momentum. On April 27, Himmler ordered to establish a concentration camp in Oświęcim. Prisoners were involved in the construction, and SS-Hauptsturmführer Rudolf Höss became the commander on May 4. The commandant quickly took up the organization of his new facility, obtaining permission to start construction work from the eldership in Bielsko. He notified the resettlement of 1,200 people. He also obtained 300 Jews to help temporarily employed at the Auschwitz employment office. On May 20, the first transport of 30 criminal prisoners from the Sachsenhausen camp, who were supposed to supervise other prisoners, arrived in Oświęcim. It is a paradox that criminals were to take charge of the functioning of a place where it was not planned to place convicts for the most serious offenses. Time has shown that most of the forced inhabitants of the camp were innocent people, used primarily as a cheap labor force or those who were trying to isolate themselves from the rest of society due to race affiliation. Numbers from 1 to 30 were assigned to newcomers. I list the prisoners who arrived in Auschwitz on May 20 based on www.auschwitz.livenet.pl
In addition, the first 15 SS men were sent, whose task was to guard order in the building under construction. On May 29, new residents of Auschwitz arrived, this time one German prisoner and 39 Polish prisoners. They began work on the fence of the camp with barbed wire. The group that arrived at the end of May had previously stayed in KL Dachau. Due to the prevailing conditions in Auschwitz, they liked Oświęcim, they even tried to extend their stay. Unsuccessfully. On June 14 they had to return to their camp. It may seem, especially when we consider the later history of the camp that they were lucky. On the same day, a large transport of 728 men from Tarnów arrived to Auschwitz. They were political prisoners who took the numbers from 31. Around the same time, another hundred SS transport arrived. Thus, the camp’s personnel structure was formed, which I present based on Danuta Czech’s text “Konzentrationslager Auschwitz – historical outline:” Adjutant of the camp commander – Josef Kramer, camp managers (in turn) – Karl Fritsch, Franz Xaver Maier, head of administration – Max Meyer, cash register manager – Herbert Minkos, food supply matters – Willi Rieck, accommodation, uniforms and SS clothing – Otto Rainicke, camp doctors – Max Popiersch, Robert Neumann and head of the Political Department – Maximillian Grabner. ”
On June 19, implementation of the resettlement plan for people from the surrounding areas began. Some families, at the news of resettlements, managed to escape. Some, however, were brutally evicted from the occupied areas. Further evictions were made on July 8. Most houses were handed over to SS men and their families. Most likely, at the end of 1940, decisions were made to expand Auschwitz and even create a number of camp branches. At the beginning of the following year, the plans were refined and a special committee developed guidelines for expansion. Therefore, on March 8, March 9 and April 1, 1941, further resettlement operations were carried out, moving the inhabitants of the village of Pławy and a number of Oświęcim streets. On April 7-12, the homes of the inhabitants of Babice, Broszkowice, Brzezinka, Buda, Harmąż and Rajska were occupied. The deserted area was quickly developed by SS men who took care not only of organizing their own apartments, but also guarding these areas because of suspicions of favoring the Polish population with refugees from the camp. By March 1, 1941, 10,900 prisoners were imprisoned in Auschwitz. Meanwhile, they were preparing for major expansion. In November 1940, Rudolf Höss received the first major order to expand the camp. Plans for further expansion were modified during 1941 and 1942. A detailed plan was sent to the commander in December 1942. The mother camp was already in the process of expansion, which began in the summer of 1941. In April, Auschwitz prisoners started working for the IG-Farbenindustrie company, for which the headquarters collected fees from contractors. Due to the problems related to transporting prisoners to Dwory, it was decided to build a camp branch in Monowice, from where the supply of labor for IG would be easier. In October 1942, Monowice accepted the first prisoners.
In October 1941, the construction of a branch in Brzezinka, three kilometers away from the Auschwitz camp, began. The work was possible thanks to the use of prisoners and materials, which until then had been the building material of the village of Brzezinka. In practice, demolition or modification of existing facilities was carried out. The project was taken care of by SS-Sturmbannführer Karl Bischoff. The area he left to develop was 720×2340 meters. It was planned to erect 174 residential barracks. The work went forward thanks to the involvement of imprisoned Poles and prisoners of war captured during the Wehrmacht’s skirmishes with the Red Army. Many thousands of prisoners lost their lives during exhausting work. The camp for Soviet prisoners of war in Auschwitz was gradually liquidated. Finally, on March 1, 1942, a party of 945 prisoners was transported to the unfinished Brzezinka. According to inaccurate data, over 20 thousand Soviet soldiers lost their lives until the liquidation of the POW camp in Oświęcim. At the same time, prisoners were transported to Auschwitz, who were assigned ten blocks fenced off from the rest.
On July 17-18, 1942, Heinrich Himmler visited the camp. The results of the visit prompted Höss to accelerate work on the construction of Brzezinka. It is worth mentioning the German conference in Wannsee in February 1942, at which it was decided to “finally solve the Jewish question.” Nazi plans to exterminate Jews mainly involved mass extermination with the help of extermination camps created over the years. As a consequence, the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp complex was also to become a place of execution for millions of people. Höss agreed that his camp would be the perfect place to implement the bestial plans. Therefore, the work efficiency of prisoners increased in mid-1942. A railway siding was built and the camp itself was divided into several sections, of which section I (parts BIa and BIb) was planned for 20 thousand. people, II, III and IV for 60,000 each. Four crematoria were built here, whose task was to liquidate the bodies of murdered prisoners. Extermination was emphasized by the use of gas chambers located at each crematorium. On August 15, 1942, a new construction plan was started in Brzezinka. The crematoria mentioned above were completed in June 1943. This year, a number of buildings in the second construction section were created.
They were designated BIIa, BIIb, BIIc, BIId, BIIe, BIIf – the first five consisted of 154 residential barracks. A prisoner hospital was located in BIIf, which did not fulfill its role in any way, and in practice was only a waiting room for the crematorium. A BIIg was also created, where a warehouse for things taken from prisoners was located. It is worth saying that the requisitioned movables were sent to camp storage rooms or were sent to the Reich, where they were used in a different way. In 1943, BIIe started operating, accepting Gypsies. Rudolf Höss remembered them as willing to be friends and not too concerned about their own fate, because living in extreme poverty was not strange to them. Unfortunately, they were even worse here than at large. Persecution and extermination reached this part of the camp’s ethnic jumble very quickly. As a consequence, on August 2, 1944, the Gypsy camp was liquidated. In BIId opened in July 1943, prisoners who were able to work were detained in order to finally use their vital forces. The BIIb housed a Jewish family camp, where Jews who arrived from the Terezin ghetto were imprisoned. In July 1944 this part of the camp was also liquidated, and the remaining ones (earlier extermination affected almost 5,000 prisoners) 7,000 people went to the gas chambers. In May 1944, the Central Construction Board finished work to erect a railway siding and a loading ramp. A month later, a transit camp was created at the BIIc camps and not yet completed BIII, in which Jewish women who arrived in Brzezinka were located, mainly from Hungary. The new transports were carefully controlled by the camp doctors, choosing more efficient women to work and the weaker women sentencing to death. Finally, in September 1944, the SS began liquidating both parts of the camp, taking 40,000 lives. Jewish women. Some women were transferred to the BIb part, creating a female part of the camp from BIa and BIb.
The development of the Auschwitz camp met the expectations of Heinrich Himmler, who was counting on the exploitation of prisoners as a slave labor force. Within several years, several dozen camp branches were created, of which the camps in Monowice, Jaworzno, Świętochłowice and Wesoła should be mentioned. In the autumn of 1943, the Oświęcim camp was divided into three parts. This was due to the dismissal of Rudolf Höss, who has so far concentrated full power in Auschwitz. On November 11, SS-Obersturmbannführer Arthur Liebenschel took over the Höss position. Soon after taking up the post, he appointed three parts of Auschwitz, remaining the head of Auschwitz I in Oświęcim, and also the superior of other commanders. KL Auschwitz II was a branch in Brzezinka, and SS-Sturmbannführer Fritz Hartjenstein became its commander. A conglomerate of ten camps was recognized as Auschwitz III: in Monowice, Jaworzno, Jukajowice, Świętochłowice, Łagisza, Wesoła, Goleszów, Libiąż, Sosnowiec and Brno. The commandant was SS-Hauptsturmaführer Heinrich Schwarz. In February 1944, the total number of people in the camps was 736,669 prisoners. Half a year later, in August, the number of prisoners was already over 150,000. people. The incredible development, with the growing number of prisoners killed each day, was associated with the growing effort of the Reich on various fronts of World War II. This was also closely related to the criminal plans of the Germans, who assumed the implementation of mass extermination.