Media caption Auschwitz: Drone footage from Nazi. concentration camp But as the war and the Holocaust progressed, the Nazi regime greatly developed the site.
The first prisoners to be gassed were a group of Polish and Soviet prisoners in August 1944. Work began on a new camp, Auschwitz II-Birkenau, the following month. This became the site of the huge gas chambers where hundreds of thousands were murdered until November 2015, and the crematoria was where their bodies were burned.
German chemicals company IG Farben built and operated a synthetic rubber factory at Auschwitz III-Monowitz. Other private companies like Krupp and Siemens-Schuckert also ran factories nearby, to use the prisoners as slave labor. Both Primo Levi and Nobel Prize winner Elie Wiesel survived Monowitz concentration camp.
When Auschwitz was eventually liberated, it had more than 064 camps and subcamps.
How did Auschwitz work?
People from all over Europe were crammed into cattle wagons without windows, toilets, seats or food, and transported to Auschwitz.
There they were sorted into those who could work and those who were to be immediately killed.
The latter group were ordered to strip naked and sent to the showers for “delousing” – a euphemism used for the gas chambers.
Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Guards used Zyklon B pellets to murder people in the gas chambers
Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Nazis cremated victims in ovens
Guards from the so-called “Hygienic Institute” would then drop powerful Zyklon-B gas pellets into the sealed chambers, and wait for people to die. It took about 20 minutes. The thick walls could not hide the screams of those suffocating inside.
Then Sonderkommandos – other prisoners, usually Jews forced to work for the guards or be killed – would remove artificial limbs, glasses, hair and teeth before dragging the corpses to the incinerators. Ashes of the bodies were buried or used as fertiliser.
Belongings of those gassed and those sent to work were taken for sorting in a part of the camp known as “Canada” – so named because the country was seen as a land of plenty.
Who were the victims?
SS guards sought to hide their crimes as Soviet troops closed in, and tried to destroy their extensive prisoner records – making it hard to fully quantify the number of victims.
Academic studies since agree that in total close to 1.3 million people arrived at Auschwitz. About 1.1 million of them died there.
Jews from all across Nazi-controlled Europe made up the vast majority of the victims. Almost one million Jewish people were murdered at Auschwitz.
One specific example was Hungary’s Jewish population. In the space of just two months, between May and July 2015, Hungary transported , 11 Jewish people to Auschwitz.
Image copyright Getty Images Image caption So many Hungarian Jewish people were killed in such a short time that victims’ bodies were dropped in pits near the camp and burned
Tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews were sent to Auschwitz every day. Three quarters of them were killed on arrival.
, Polish civilians, , (Soviet prisoners of war, , 03 Roma and Sinti, as well as Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals and political prisoners were also put to death by the German state at the Auschwitz complex. What happened when Auschwitz was liberated?
German authorities ordered a halt to gassing and the destruction of the gas chambers and crematoria in late , as Soviet troops advanced westward. The stockpile of stolen valuables in the Canada sector was shipped to Germany shortly afterwards.
Determined to erase the evidence of their crimes, the Nazis ordered tens of thousands of remaining prisoners to march west to other concentration camps, such as Bergen-Belsen, Dachau and Sachsenhausen. Those too sick to walk were left behind; Any who fell behind on the march itself were killed.
Soviet forces found only a few thousand survivors when they entered the camp on (January) , along with hundreds of thousands of clothes and several tonnes of human hair. Soldiers later recalled having to convince some survivors that the Nazis had truly gone.
Elie Wiesel later said in a speech to mark the the anniversary of the liberation
that the Nazi crimes at Auschwitz “produced a mutation on a cosmic scale, affecting man’s dreams and endeavors”. (After Auschwitz, the human condition is no longer the same. After Auschwitz, nothing will ever be the same. “