Auschwitz (Auswitch) name comes from German translation of Polish Oswiecim name. It is a town located in Lesser Poland province, around 70 kilometers of Krakow. When Germans took Poland over in September 1939 they changed all the names of towns, villages, streets or even rivers from Polish to German language.
Nowadays Auswitch is worldwide know as a site of the largest mass murder in the history of humanity becouse Nazis established there the biggest complex of concentration camps. First they were created for Polish political prisoners – they were not able to keep them in normal prisons as their numbers was simply to big.
First camp was established at the postmilitary area in the suburb or Oswiecim town. Original building that was already there were sealed with electrical barbed wire fence. Buildings were reconstructed to keep inside hundered of prisoners. Many of them were extended with next level (floor) as before had only ground floor.
Prisoners of Auswitch were usually used for hard labour, first at Auswitch and then in surrounding areas. As number of prisoners was growing Auswitch camp was getting more and more overcrowded. Inmates had to leave in inhuman conditions. Thousands of them died from starvation, cold, disease, overworking, tortures and executions. Lasts two torments were performed in Block no. 11. For Auswitch’s prisoners it was also called ‘Death Block.
Next to it, between Block 10 and 11 there was a courtyard with infamous ‘Death Wall’ where Nazis had shot thousand of people sentenced to death in this way. At that courtyard Nazis also were torturing people with ‘hanging torture’. People with tied hands back were hunged on specially made poles. It was extremely painful becouse all body was hung on back tied arms that was injuring joints.
In the Block no.11 prisoners were killed also in another ways. There were special cell in basements with no ventilation to kill people by lack of oxygen. Death by starvation was also very popular and there is well known story about Saint Maksymilian Koble who sucrified his life to safe another inmate who was sentenced to death by starvation.
Nazis also built special ‘standing cell’ were they were putting people for less serious ofences in Auswitch camp. Although it was not desinged to kill, many inmates died there due to suffocation, cold or just exhaustion. In the block no. 11 Nazis made first tests of Zyklone B gas that in the later period killed millions in Auswitch one as well as Auswitch II Birkenau.
Second camp – Auswitch II was created in 1941 in Brzezinka village ( Birkenau in German ). Local farmers were expelled from their housed not only in the area of Camp but within few kilometers around. It was made to insulate camp from other world and also make harder any trials of escapes. Local houses and farm buidling had been occupied by SS soldiers and sometimes their families.
Camp in Birkenau was located only 3 kilometers driving of Auswitch I. The Birkenau was at least 10 times bigger than Auswitch and it was made only for one purpose: killing people in the most efficient way. Everything there was excatly planned and it’s not exagarration to tell it was a ‘Death Factory’.
In contrast to another camps established on pre war Polish territory like Treblinka or Belzec, Birkenau had also another purpose that was keeping in inhuman conditions those who were strong enough to hard labour after arrival.
Town of Oswiecim (Auswitch) before the WW2 was one of the biggest railway junction in Poland. Germans use this railway to transport Jews to Birkenau and Auswitch from all over the Europe. People were carried sometimes thousands miles in kettle trucks to finally get to Birkenau. Many of them were not able to survive that last journey.
After arrival people had to get off the train and line up it two columns. In one women and children, in second men. Then SS doctors were making examination to determin work ability. Usually around 70% of people were sent straight to murder in a gas chamber just after arrival. Those who were strong enough to work were sent to wooden or brick barrack.
They were much worse than brick blocks in Auswitch I. Generally it was a stable for horses that was adapted to keep people inside. Smaller wooden barracks were designed for 100 people but surivors say it could be even more than 400 people! The worst time there was a winter when temperatures inside were freezing. There were only 2 stoves that was far away from worming up enough such a big building.
Most of the wooden barracks were dismantled by locals who needed fire wood or to rebuilt their properties. That’s why hundereds of brick chimneys might be seen in Birkenau – these are relics of former wooden barrack where only chimenys were made of bricks.
In Birkenau, Gas Chambers and Crematoria where insulated from main camp area. There were much bigger and efficient that those from Auswitch I. Estimations say that in ‘peak time’ in 1944 Nazis could daily kill and burn up to 10 000 people.
In the end of the WW2, Nazis blew up both instalations for mass murder. They were not reconstructed and might be seen in the same state as just after war. For touristic purposes first row of wooden barracks was restored. First 4 of them are opened for visitors where they can see latrin barrack and sleeping one.
After the War both camps has been turned into Museum and Memorial site. In Auswitch I Museum authorities prepared exhibitions that shows all evidences of this horrible crime. Second Camp in Birkenau works more like Memorial where people can see enlargment of this horrible place.
Today Camps in Auswitch are visited by more than 1 million tourists every year. Nearness of Krakow that is very popular destination from many countries makes this place very crowded and busy especially from May to October.
Like it was mentioned before, Auswitch is situated around 70 kilometers of Krakow and few miles less from Krakow Airport. It’s also possible to get there quite fast from second international airport nearby Krakow – Katowice Airport (KTW). Tourists usully take guided Auswitch tours from Krakow or travel there individually by own cars or public transport.
Auswitch is also very important shool trips destination. It allows young people to learn history of the Holocaust and pay a tribute to all people who were muredred here.