Auschwitz: Overview of the Concentration Camp
The Holocaust was one of the most horrifying crimes against humanity. "Hitler, in an attempt to establish the pure Aryan race, decided that Jews, Poles, Soviet prisoners of war, Roma (Gypsies), and homosexuals amongst others were to be eliminated from the German population. One of his main methods of exterminating these “undesirables” was through the use of concentration and death camps. In January of 1941, Adolf Hitler and his top officials decided to make their “final solution” a reality. Their goal was to eliminate the Jews and the “impure” from the entire German population. Auschwitz was not only the largest concentration camp that carried out Hitler's “final solution,” but it was also the most extensive. It was comprised of three separate camps that encompassed approximately 25 square miles. Although millions of people came to Auschwitz, it is doubted that more than 120,000-150,000 ever lived there at any one time. (Encyclopedia of the Holocaust)
On April 27, 1940, the head of the SS and German police, Heinrich Himmler, ordered that a new concentration camp be established near the town of Oswiecim. A short while later the building of the camp in Zasole, the suburb of Oswiecim, was started. The camp was to be called Auschwitz. The first laborers forced to work on the construction of the camp were three hundred Jews from Oswiecim and its vicinity. (Encyclopedia of the Holocaust) After the completion it covered two square kilometers and took approximately one and a half hours to walk around its perimeter. (Feig, 340) On the gate of Auschwitz was a sign in German that read, “Arbeit macht frei,” which translates into English as “work makes one free.” (Feig, 334) This was one of the many lies which the Nazis told their prisoners. The first Jews in Auschwitz believed that they were just being taken there to work for the Nazis. As more and more people died word leaked to the outside world about what was really happening at Auschwitz.
The Jews and other undesirables were forced by S.S. soldiers to leave their homes and nearly all of their possessions behind to board crowded trains to Auschwitz. Ironically most of the time they had to pay for the train rides that eventually led to their death.
The train rides to Auschwitz were an introduction to the treatment that the deportees were to receive at the camp. Confidential orders to the mayor of cities in Carpathian-Ruthenia and northern Transylvania were: “The persons to be transported are to be supplied with bread for two days. The two days’ supply per person is 400 grams. Taking along of additional food is prohibited…..The mayor will also see to it that each car is provided with a covered bucket (for sanitary purposes) and with a can suitable for drinking water… If necessary, as many as 100 may be put in a car and those who cannot take it will perish.” (Hellman) The train rides on average lasted 4 to 5 days and depending on the season was...