The extermination of Jews in Auschwitz-Birkenau

Initially, the Auschwitz concentration camp was set up for Polish political prisoners, and until 1942 Poles accounted for the majority of inmates. The number of Jews deported to the camp was relatively small. Among the first prisoners that were sent to the camp, there were over 750 Non-Jewish Polish citizens and 21 Jews. Everything changed in January 1942, when the camp became the site of mass extermination.

In 1942-1944 Auschwitz served as the largest Nazi camp for the destruction of the Jewish nation. It was a part of the “final solution of the Jewish question” (Endlösung der Judenfrage), a plan outlined at the Wannsee Conference on 20 January 1942. Jews and people of Jewish origin were deported to Auschwitz from all over Europe occupied by and allied with the Third Reich. The largest group among the Jews sent to the camp in RSHA (Reich Main Security Office) transports, were of Hungarian descent – 430 thousand people were deported from Hungary between April and August 1944. Auschwitz was also the destination for over 300 thousand Polish Jews, as well as thousands of Jews from the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, Slovakia, France, the Netherlands, Greece, Belgium, Yugoslavia, Italy and Norway.

The majority of the Jews were gassed in the special chambers immediately after the arrival. In the summer of 1942, a regular selection was introduced. As a result, an average of 20% of Jews from transport was temporarily kept alive and placed in the camp to perform slave labour. They were either forced to construct new parts of the camp or sent to German companies, which were involved in developing the military potential of the Third Reich.

Nazis regarded Jews as “Untermensch” (inferior people) and believed their lives were the least valuable of all. To the greatest extent imaginable, Jews suffered from starvation, slave labour, cold, constant abuse, and various kinds of the most brutal, cynical “experiments”. Jewish prisoners were subject to mistreatment like no other group (except for Roma people). They were forbidden to write letters and receive parcels, as oppose to other prisoners. A multitude of Jews was sent to the penal company. Only a handful survived from the many deported to Auschwitz during the first years.

From May to October 1944, thousands of Jews (mainly from Hungary and Poland) were held in transit camps (Durchgangslager) – separate parts of Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp – without being registered individually. SS leadership consider them a labour reserve to be gradually “distributed”. They were called “transit Jews” (Durchgangs-Juden), or “deposit,” and sometimes waited months for a decision about their fate. There were only two possibilities: being assigned to work or the gas chamber. The ones kept alive were either sent to one of the Auschwitz sub-camps or transferred to labour camps in the Third Reich.

Our trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau

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