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‘ Arbeit macht frei’ Literally reads “work makes free” It is a German phrase that can be translated as “Work liberates” or “work makes one free”. The slogan is well-known for being placed at the entrances to a number of Nazi concentration camps, including most famously Auschwitz, where it was made by prisoners with metal work skills and erected by order of the Nazis in June 1940. AUSCHWITZ
An aerial reconnaissance photograph of Auschwitz Concentration Camp in Poland, 4 th April, 1944.
A ‘zoomed-in’ aerial reconnaissance photograph of Auschwitz Concentration Camp in Poland, 4 th April, 1944.
An aerial reconnaissance photograph of Auschwitz Concentration Camp in Poland, 21 st December, 1944.
Map of Europe showing Major Nazi Camps between: 1943 - 1944
What exactly was Auschwitz? Auschwitz was the largest camp established by the Germans during World War II. More than a million people - the vast majority of them Jews - died there between 1940, when it was built, and 1945, when it was liberated. Nazi Germany began establishing Concentration Camps in 1933. They were places to hold political prisoners and opponents of the Nazi regime. They grew rapidly in number throughout the 1930s.
How did they die? Hitler's Nazi regime intended to exterminate all the Jews in Europe - about nine million people when the war began. After experimenting with various methods, they settled on gas chambers as the most efficient. Auschwitz had four large gas chambers, in which people were poisoned with a gas called Zyklon-B. When prisoners arrived at Auschwitz, guards selected those who looked fit for work and sent the rest - children, the elderly, anyone who looked weak - directly to the gas chambers. Those who survived selection had their heads shaved, and numbers tattooed on their arms. They were assigned striped prison clothing and set to work. Inmates also died of malnutrition and disease due to the brutal conditions at the camp, and were shot dead by guards for any reason - or no reason at all. Life expectancy for those who survived selection was, on average, a few months. The Nazis also carried out quasi-medical "experiments" on inmates, including children. Many died as a result of inhumane tests on their endurance, exposure to heat or cold, and forced sterilizations.
Were all the victims Jews? No, but most were. About a million Jews died at Auschwitz. Another 75,000 non-Jewish Poles, 18,000 Roma (Gypsies), and 15,000 Soviet prisoners of war were killed there. The Nazis also imprisoned and executed political prisoners, homosexuals, disabled people, Jehovah's Witnesses , Catholic Clergy, Eastern European intellectuals, common criminals and anyone else they considered undesirable at the concentration camps and death camps they built.
Where did the victims come from? Most at Auschwitz were Polish - Poland had the largest Jewish community in Europe at the beginning of the war. But victims were also brought by train from the many countries occupied by the Nazis or allied with them - including Hungary, Czechoslovakia, the Netherlands, Belgium and Yugoslavia.
Why didn't the prisoners rebel? In fact, they did. Several hundred inmates learned in October 1944 that they were to be killed and rose up against the Nazis, killing three guards. They also blew up one of the crematoriums and a gas chamber with explosives smuggled in by inmates who were used as forced labour at an arms factory. The Nazis crushed the uprising, killing almost everyone who was involved. The women who smuggled the explosives into the camp were hanged in public.
Was anyone punished for what happened at Auschwitz? Many of the people who participated in the Holocaust were put on trial after the war, including Rudolf Hoess, the camp commandant at Auschwitz. He was tried in Poland, sentenced to death and executed in 1947. About 750 of the 7,000 guards were also prosecuted and punished, but the search for Nazi war criminals who escaped justice goes on to this day.
What does Auschwitz mean? It is the German name for the Polish town of Oswiecim, near Krakow, where the camp stood. The original reason the camp was established was that the mass arrests of Polish people that followed the seizing of their country was becoming unmanageable by the regular prisons. In 1942 it became one of the largest death camps as part of Hitler’s “Final Solution”.
Why is Auschwitz in the news now? The 27 January 2010 marked the 65th anniversary of the liberation of the camp by the Soviet Union's Red Army. When the camp was liberated, about 7,000 ill and dying prisoners were freed. The Nazis had partially destroyed the camp and taken about 58,000-60,000 inmates on a death march, fleeing the approaching Soviet Union’s Red Army. Those who fell behind or collapsed were shot; about 15,000 people died on the death march west.
BBC News: Q & A: Auschwitz Auschwitz in Pictures Auschwitz Today Auschwitz Birkenau is now a museum run by the Polish Culture Ministry, and a UNESCO world heritage site. Auschwitz, or Oswiecim, is a small city, Birkenau or Brzezinka, a large village. Life goes on as normal outside the camp gates. Inside, the museum is taking steps to preserve what it controls - to stop the crematoria from disintegrating completely, and to stop the thousands of victims' shoes and the piles of hair from rotting away. Select each of the images above and read the story behind them.
Construction Brigades Auschwitz expanded rapidly after the first camp, Auschwitz-I, was established in 1940, mainly as a penal colony. The Nazis used the prisoners themselves to do the work of building two more camps. Auschwitz-II was primarily a death camp, a key part of the Nazi plan to exterminate all Jews in Europe - the "Final Solution to the Jewish question". Auschwitz-III was a forced labour camp supplying workers to the Buna rubber works. Ovens After experimenting with several different methods of mass slaughter, the Nazis settled on Zyklon-B, a gas previously used for fumigation, at Auschwitz. Victims were gassed en masse in chambers disguised as shower rooms, then burned in ovens designed specially for the purpose. Rolling wagons slid in and out of the ovens so that corpses could be burned quickly. About one million Jews were killed at the camp.
Liberation When the Soviet army reached Auschwitz in January 1945 it found only 7,000 inmates. Nearly 60,000 had been forced to march west in freezing conditions. Those who collapsed or fell behind were shot. In all, some 15,000 died on the death march. A Soviet soldier described the inmates as "skin and bones", louse-infested and barely able to stand. "Some were crying, some were laughing," he added. "Some tried to kiss us, but it was uncomfortable - you didn't want to get infected." Children Children too young to be of use as forced labour were often killed as soon as they arrived at Auschwitz. But a number of children, in camp uniform, were found and photographed by the Soviet soldiers who liberated the camp. Doctors under the infamous Josef Mengele conducted pseudoscientific experiments on twins. They received blood transfusions, mysterious injections, and eye drops that caused temporary or permanent blindness. Some were castrated, and some died during their ordeal.
Possessions Little was wasted at Auschwitz. Victims' possessions were confiscated, and efficiently sorted for recycling. Gold teeth were particularly highly valued. Human hair was shorn off and used for stuffing mattresses. Glasses, shoes, clothes, suitcases and even false limbs were accumulated in large numbers. Trial Two of Auschwitz's commanders were tried and executed in Poland in 1947. Another was arrested near Hamburg in 1960 and died in jail three years later. The trial in this photograph took place between December 1963 and August 1965. The testimony from defendants, mostly low-level assistants to the camp commanders, and from survivors, provided a detailed and chilling picture of the daily routine at Auschwitz, and the machinery of genocide.
Entrance The Nazis established their largest and most infamous extermination camp at Oswiecim, near Krakow, in Poland and called it Auschwitz. Between 1940 and 1945 they killed more than a million people there - the vast majority of them Jews but also Poles, Roma (Gypsies) and Russian prisoners of war. Trains filled with victims from throughout occupied Europe arrived at the camp almost every day between 1942 and the summer of 1944. Forced Labour The Nazis used forced labour as a means of "re-educating" political opponents as early as 1933. By the time Auschwitz was established, they were using concentration camp inmates as a vital part of their workforce. Those who survived the initial selection were put to work in arms factories, coal mines, farms and chemicals plants. This photo - of women queuing for a hard labour assignment - was taken by an SS guard.
Arrival Guards inspected new arrivals at the camp to determine whether or not they were fit for forced labour. Most were not - and were sent directly to the gas chambers. The gas chamber complex grew larger and larger over the course of the war. In the end, there was a group of four large buildings containing disrobing areas, the gas chambers themselves, and crematoriums. Victims' possessions were confiscated and sent back to Germany. Barracks Living conditions in the camp were extremely harsh. Prisoners slept several to a bed - and the beds were hard wooden bunks. Inmates huddled together for warmth in the winter and endured baking heat in the summer.
“ The Final Solution” Nazi Germany’s plan and execution of the systematic genocide of European Jews during World War II, resulting in the final, most deadly phase of the Holocaust. Mass killings of about one million Jews occurred before the plans of the “Final Solution” were fully implemented in 1942, but it was only with the decision to eradicate the entire Jewish population that the extermination camps were built and industrialized mass slaughter of Jews began with a vengeance. “ The Final Solution” to the ‘problem of the Jews’ saw the execution of an estimated to million Jewish people during WWII. Auschwitz concentration camp alone accounted for the death of four million Jews and non-Jews under Nazi Germany.
Aerial Reconnaissance Photograph An aerial reconnaissance photograph of Auschwitz Concentration Camp in Poland, 4 th April, 1944. Zoom-In
Aerial Reconnaissance Photograph An aerial reconnaissance photograph of Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland. It is one of a series of aerial photographs taken by Allied reconnaissance units under the command of the 15th US Army Air Force during missions dating between April 4, 1944 and January 14, 1945. The photos were used to plan bombing raids, determine the accuracy of bombing sorties, or make damage assessments. ( Photographs by Galerie Bilderwelt/Getty Images). Zoom-Out
Aerial Reconnaissance Photograph An aerial reconnaissance photograph of Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland, showing Auschwitz II (Birkenau Extermination Camp), 21st December 1944. (Photographs by Galerie Bilderwelt/Getty Images) .