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Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial

Auschwitz Birkenau is one of the most frequently visited museums in Poland which attracts millions of visitors every year. They come to pay their respects to the victims of the Holocaust and also to see one of the most fearful places in history.

If you are planning to visit Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial, you may be wondering whether
to go with a guide or explore the site on your own. In this text we will briefly introduce the history of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration and extermination camp and encourage you to take a guided tour as it’s definitely the best visit option.

The History of Auschwitz

Auschwitz was established by Nazi Germans in 1940 in the town of Oświęcim. It was the largest camp of its kind and a place where over a million people, mostly Jews, were murdered. The camp was liberated by the Soviet Army in January 1945, and it has since become a symbol of the Holocaust and place of remembrance.

Choose a professional guide!

Exploring Auschwitz Birkenau on your own may be overwhelming, especially if you are not familiar with the history and the camp’s layout. With a professional guide, you will gain a wider perspective of the horrible events that took place at the camp and you’ll understand the significance of the Memorial. The guide will also take you to the places that are off
a beaten path, allowing you to fully discover the former concentration and extermination camp.

The guide will provide you with a comprehensive overview of the history of the camp, including the stories of the people who were imprisoned there. The guide will answer your questions and provide you with valuable insights that will make your visit more meaningful.

Furthermore, the guide will take you through the various parts of the camp in a logical order, allowing you to see the most important sites and exhibits. You will also be able to avoid the long queues, as guides have priority access to the museum and memorial sites.

Auschwitz tour from Cracow

Offer of trips to Auschwitz museum by Comfort Tours Cracow

Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial is a place that should be visited by everyone who wants to pay their respects to the victims of the Holocaust and learn more about this tragic chapter of history. While it is possible to explore the site on your own, choosing the guided tour is the best option. With the guide you may obtain a deeper understanding of the camp’s history and realise its importance. In addition, you will also experience more than if you visit on your own.

It’s better to book tickets in advance to avoid problems with availability.

See other attractive tours organized from Cracow  ➡


Basic information

• Admission to the grounds of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial is free of charge. The entry cards should be reserved on For better understanding the history of Auschwitz we suggest a visit with an guide-educator

• The fees are charged for engaging a guide-educator. Visitors in groups are required to engage an Auschwitz Memorial guide.

• While on the grounds of the Museum, you are required to observe the appropriate solemnity and respect. Before the visit please read “the rules for visiting “.

• Due to overwhelming demand, please book in advance and arrive at the Memorial at least 30 minutes before the start of the tour due to security checks. The main car park and entrance to the Museum is located at 55 Więźniów Oświęcimia Street.

• The grounds and buildings of the Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau camps are open to visitors. The duration of a visit is determined solely by the individual interests and needs of the visitors. As a minimum, however, at least three-and-a-half hours should be reserved.

• The maximum size of backpacks or handbags brought into the Museum does not exceed dimensions: 30x20x10 cm.

• Visitors may leave their luggage in paid luggage storage. The dimensions of the luggage storages expressed in centimeters are 90x50x22, 60x50x22 and 85x65x42, internal dimensions are: 90x50x30, 60x50x30 and 90x65x50, and their maximum load is 30 kg.


Taking pictures on the grounds of the State Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau in Oświęcim for own purposes, without use of a flash and stands, is allowed for exceptions to a room with the hair of Victims (Block 4) and the basements of Block 11. Material may be used only in undertakings and projects that do not violate the good name of the Victims of Auschwitz. Photography and filming on the Museum grounds for commercial purposes, at spaces closed to visitors or with a drone, require prior approval by the Museum.

  • Guides. Visitors in groups are required to engage an Auschwitz Memorial guide; individual visitors may also engage a guide-educator. For them we offer organized tours.
  • Groups of more than 10 people are required to hire a headphone guiding system.
  • Disabled. Because of the need to preserve the historical authenticity of the site of the Memorial it may be difficult for dissabled persons to move around the grounds and buildings. In order to help visitors with disabilities wheelchairs are available free of charge at the Visitor Service Centre.
  • It is not recommended that children under 14 visit the Memorial

While on the grounds of the Museum, 
you are required to observe 
the appropriate solemnity 
and respect.

Guided tours options. Prices.

Group at Auschwitz I

Group at Auschwitz…

We offer visitors several options for guided tours. Each includes tours of Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau.

• General tours (3,5 h)
• Guided tours for individual visitors (3,5 h)
• One or two-day study tours (6 h or 3+3 h)
• General tours – shorter version before closing hours (2,5 h)
• Online tour (2 h)

Because of a large number of visitors guides should be reserved at least one month before a planned visit.

Guided tour with an educator may be reserved:
• on the (up to 5 days before the visit)
• by e-mail (2-5 days before the visit – private tour with an educator)

Visiting with a guideprice list

Attention! Prices are subject to change without prior notice.

Visitors arriving in groups are required to engage a guide-educator. This ensures efficient movement around the entire Museum grounds and full information about the museum, the buildings and their history, and the exhibitions. A fee is charged for guide services. Only guides-educators licensed by the Museum are authorized to serve visitors. Guides-educators are available to serve visitors in Croatian, Czech, Dutch, English, French, German, Hebrew, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Polish, Russian, Serbian, Slovak, Spanish, Swedish, Portuguese, Greek, and Ukrainian.

• General tours for groups and individuals (around three-and-a-half hours):

Tour of the permanent exhibitions and buildings at the Auschwitz I-Main Camp and the most important original camp buildings in Auschwitz II-Birkenau: prisoner barracks, the unloading platform (ramp), and the ruins of gas chamber and crematoria II or III.

• One or two-day study tours (6 hours or 2×3 hours):
Specialist tour of the Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau camps, enhanced with selected national exhibitions, the area of so-called Kanada, and the ruins of gas chambers and crematoria IV and V. 

• General tours for groups and individuals – shorter version before the closing hours (around two-and-a-half hours):

Tour of the permanent exhibitions and buildings at the Auschwitz I-Main Camp and the most important original camp buildings in Auschwitz II-Birkenau: prisoner barracks, the unloading platform (ramp).

• Online tour (approximately 2 hours):
The online tour is divided into two parts – in Auschwitz I and Birkenau. The guide’s narration is conducted live. Additionally, the educator will also use multimedia materials, archival photographs, artistic works, documents, and testimonies of Survivors. Thanks to the application, interaction with the guide and asking questions is also possible.

It is possible at set times for individual visitors to assemble into a group and engage a guide-educator (in Polish, English, German, Franch, Italian and Spanish).


KL Auschwitz-Birkenau

All over the world, Auschwitz has become a symbol of terror, genocide, and the Holocaust. It was established by Germans in 1940, in the suburbs of Oswiecim, a Polish city that was annexed to the Third Reich by the Nazis. Its name was changed to Auschwitz, which also became the name of Konzentrationslager Auschwitz.

The direct reason for the establishment of the camp was the fact that mass arrests of Poles were increasing beyond the capacity of existing “local” prisons. The first transport of Poles reached KL Auschwitz from Tarnów prison on June 14, 1940. Initially, Auschwitz was to be one more concentration camp of the type that the Nazis had been setting up since the early 1930s. It functioned in this role throughout its existence, even when, beginning in 1942, it also became the largest of the extermination centers where the “Endlösung der Judenfrage” (the final solution to the Jewish question – the Nazi plan to murder European Jews) was carried out.

Division of the camp

Auschwitz I. The first and oldest was the so-called “main camp,” later also known as “Auschwitz I” (the number of prisoners fluctuated around 15,000, sometimes rising above 20,000), which was established on the grounds and in the buildings of prewar Polish barracks;

Auschwitz II. The second part was the Birkenau camp (which held over 90,000 prisoners in 1944), also known as “Auschwitz II” This was the largest part of the Auschwitz complex. The Nazis began building it in 1941 on the site of the village of Brzezinka, three kilometers from Oswiecim. The Polish civilian population was evicted and their houses confiscated and demolished. The greater part of the apparatus of mass extermination was built in Birkenau and the majority of the victims were murdered here;

Auschwitz III. More than 40 sub-camps, exploiting the prisoners as slave laborers, were founded, mainly at various sorts of German industrial plants and farms, between 1942 and 1944. The largest of them was called Buna (Monowitz, with ten thousand prisoners) and was opened by the camp administration in 1942 on the grounds of the Buna-Werke synthetic rubber and fuel plant six kilometers from the Auschwitz camp. The plan was built during the war by the German IG Farbenindustrie concern, to which the SS supplied prisoners to work. In November 1943, the Buna sub-camp became the seat of the commandant of Auschwitz III, to which other industrial Auschwitz sub-camps were subordinated.


The Germans isolated all the camps and sub-camps from the outside world and surrounded them with barbed wire fencing. All contact with the outside world was forbidden. However, the area administered by the commandant and patrolled by the SS camp garrison went beyond the grounds enclosed by barbed wire. It included an additional area of approximately 40 square kilometers (the so-called “Interessengebiet” – the interest zone), which lay around the Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau camps.

The local population, the Poles and Jews living near the newly-founded camp, were evicted in 1940-1941. Approximately one thousand of their homes were demolished. Other buildings were assigned to officers and non-commissioned officers from the camp SS garrison, who sometimes came here with their whole families. The pre-war industrial facilities in the zone, taken over by Germans, were expanded in some cases and, in others, demolished to make way for new plants associated with the military requirements of the Third Reich. The camp administration used the zone around the camp for auxiliary camp technical support, workshops, storage, offices, and barracks for the SS.

“On Auschwitz” podcast

The official podcast of the Auschwitz Memorial. The history of Auschwitz is exceptionally complex. It combined two functions: a concentration camp and an extermination center. Nazi Germany persecuted various groups of people there, and the camp complex continually expanded and transformed itself. In the podcast “On Auschwitz,” we discuss the details of the history of the camp as well as our contemporary memory of this important and special place.

All our podcasts:

Poles in Auschwitz

Józef Szajna, prisoner number 18 729 (Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum Archives)

Józef Szajna,…

After the liquidation of the Polish state and its institutions, the fundamental goal of German policy in occupied Poland was the exploitation of material and labor resources, and the removal of the local Polish population and ethnic minorities. This was done through expulsion and systematic extermination. The Polish lands were to be completely germanized, through German settlement in the depopulated area.

Hitler repeatedly told German dignitaries and leaders as much. After the meeting between General Governor Hans Frank and Hitler on March 17, 1941, Frank wrote:

“The Führer is determined to make this country a purely German country within 15-20 years. From now on, the term “seat of the Polish people” will no longer be used to refer to the GG and adjacent areas […] The General Government is to become the German zone in the future. In the place inhabited today by over 12 million Poles, 4-5 million will live in the future. The General Government is to be a country as German as the Rhineland.”

From the beginning of the occupation, various places of imprisonment, police jails, judicial prisons, transit camps, labor camps, reeducation camps, penal camps and, above all, concentration camps played an important role in the process of the systematic extermination of the Poles, the weakening of their intellectual potential, and the imposition of unquestioning obedience.

Auschwitz as a Place for the Deportation and Annihilation of Poles

The Auschwitz concentration camp created 10 months after the beginning of the war was the first concentration camp built in occupied Polish territory. Together with Majdanek (created in 1941) and Stutthof it was one of the main places of deportations and annihilation of Poles. The first transport of Polish political prisoners arrived at the Auschwitz camp on 14 June 1940. On that day Germans deported 728 people from a prison in Tarnów.


Representatives of the intelligentsia

In addition to those in breach or suspected breach of the orders of the occupying authorities and activities in the resistance movement, persons who prior to the war, due to their education, activities and social position had a considerable standing in the society, were also imprisoned in the camp. They were pre-war government officials, politicians, schools teachers at different levels from basic to higher education institutions, doctors, professional army officers, the clergy and nuns. According to the Germans, they were particularly predisposed to resist the occupant. All these people, regardless the reasons of the arrest were considered political prisoners.

Arrested in round-ups

Among those classified as political prisoners were also entirely innocent people arrested accidentally during the various controls on the streets, in public buildings, homes, or during the so-called street round-ups. In the first transport from Warsaw on 15 August 1940, out of the 1,666 persons transferred 1,153 were arrested during round-ups.


Some Polish detainees in the camp were hostages, who were shot in retaliation for the actions of the resistance movement in a particular area, in the event of failure to apprehend the actual perpetrators.

“Return undesirable”

Some prisoners arrived at the camp with death sentences. They were those the police outpost in charge of the camp had inscribed in their personnel files the annotation: “Rückkehr unerwünscht” (return undesirable), “nicht uberstellen” (do not transfer), or who had a red cross marked in the files. Some names were even assigned a date of execution. From time to time, the SS men from the political department reviewed the files of prisoners, took out the ones with the above-mentioned annotations and prepared an appropriate list of names. Upon approval by the commandant, the prisoners were summoned to the camp Office to verify their personal data, and then shot on the same day.

“Reeducation” prisoners

From 16 July 1941, labourers, mostly Poles employed in industrial plants were transferred from the Gestapo in the Katowice district to the KL Auschwitz concentration camp “for reeducation”. These prisoners were not recognised as political prisoners, but had a special status of education prisoners (Erziehungshäftlinge – EH). Their conditions of stay in the camp did not differ from those of the other prisoners. The difference in the status of this category of inmates compared to others was that they were imprisoned at the camp for a specified period – officially 8 weeks, in practice, often much longer. A total of approximately 11 thousand prisoners in this category were imprisoned in the camp

Victims of the Gestapo Court Martial

The camp was also the site of execution of persons who were not entered into the records. They were therefore unofficial prisoners of the camp. These were persons sentenced to death via “special treatment” (Sonderbehandlung), i.e., at the request of the local security police outposts, and approved by the Reich Main Security Office.

Persons residing in the eastern part of the so-called Province of Upper Silesia (including part of the lands of the Upper Silesia and Lesser Poland annexed to the Reich), sentenced to death by the drumhead martial court of the security police, reactivated in June 1942 were also executed by firing squad in the camp. This court mostly sentenced Poles, sometimes Jews, even for minor offenses to the death penalty. From February 1943, the Court also met on the premises of the camp, and the prisoners at the disposal of the police, referred to in the camp as police prisoners were detained until hearing in block 2a and later in block 11. It is estimated that approximately 3-4.5 thousand Poles may have been victims of the drumhead martial court, shot in the camp or gassed in the chambers.

Euthanasia operation

The camp was also a place for the extermination of Poles as part of the euthanasia action conducted on Polish lands i.e., the killing of terminally ill people. This category included primarily the mentally ill, but also the elderly, the infirm, especially those in residential care facilities. On 23 June 1942, 566 patients of the psychiatric hospital in Kobierzyn near Krakow and Kalwaria Zebrzydowska were killed as part of the euthanasia action.

Poles from Zamość region

Towards the end of 1942, plans were in place to make Auschwitz, one of the main places of deportation of the Polish population relocated from the South-Eastern part of the General Government – Zamość. The weekly shipment to the camp was planned at 3 transports of 1000 persons. Unexpected developments on the Eastern Front (the defeat at Stalingrad) shattered the plans. A total of 1,301 persons were deported. A vast majority of them died due to cold and starvation, or were killed by injections of phenol or gassed in the gas chambers.

Warsaw residents during the Warsaw Uprising 

The last group of Poles imprisoned in KL Auschwitz were the inhabitants of Warsaw, numbering approximately 13,000 (men, women and children) who arrived in August and September 1944. Their deportation was a result of the ongoing uprising in Warsaw against the occupant, and the decision taken by the German authorities to remove the surviving civilian population from Warsaw and then destroy the city.


Before deportation to Auschwitz, Poles were concentrated in the large, central district prisons of the General Government: Pawiak (Warsaw) in the Warsaw District; Montelupich (Cracow) and Tarnów prison in the Cracow District; Na Zamku (Lublin) in the Lublin District; the Radom Gestapo prison in the Radom District; and the Gestapo prison in Lwów in the Galicia District. From the Polish land annexed by Germany and from the Third Reich itself, Poles arrived in Auschwitz by way of the prisons in Katowice, Sosnowiec, Mysłowice, Opole, Opawa, Wrocław, Szczecin, Inowrocław, Poznań,  Bydgoszcz, Legnica, and Łódź.

They were transported by special trains or, more frequently, in train cars added to passenger trains. New prisoners boarded as the trains stopped in cities along the way. These were referred to as collective transports (Sammeltransport).

The Number of Victims

It is estimated that a total of 130-140 thousand Poles were sent to Auschwitz in direct or collective transports, and added to the list of prisoner numbers. It is further estimated that approximately 10 thousand Poles (including police prisoners) were killed in Auschwitz without ever being registered as prisoners. At least half of the Poles imprisoned there are estimated to have died as a result of starvation, beating, sickness, excessive labor, failure to receive medical care, and execution by shooting, lethal injection of phenol, or murdered in the gas chambers. Many prisoners died soon after being transferred to other concentration camps.

Jews in Auschwitz

Until early 1942, the Nazis deported to Auschwitz a relatively small number of Jews, who were sent there along with the non-Jewish prisoners, mostly Poles, who accounted for the majority of the camp population until mid-1942.
Among the first transports of more than a thousand Polish political prisoners sent to Auschwitz in June 1940 from the prisons in Tarnów and Wiśnicz Nowy, there were at least 21 Polish Jews. All of them died in the camp within a short time.
Extant records from the period January-December 1941 indicate that—not counting Soviet POWs—17,270 prisoners were registered in Auschwitz, of whom 1,255 were Jews.


Throughout the existence of the camp, the authorities there treated Jews with the most ruthless, and often quite refined, cruelty. SS men regarded a Jewish life as the least valuable of all. To the greatest possible extent, Jews fell victim to starvation, cold, hard labor, constant harassment and abuse, and various kinds of cyclical extermination operations.

Jewish prisoners suffered worse mistreatment than others during registration and in the course of the penal physical exercises called “sport.” A high proportion of Jews were sent to the penal company. As opposed to other prisoners, they were forbidden in principle to write letters or receive parcels. Of the Jews who arrived in Auschwitz during the early years, very few survived.

Beginning in the spring of 1942, Jews began to be placed in Auschwitz after arriving in separate transports, although Jews arriving together with non-Jews from various prisons continued to be admitted to the camp.

Auschwitz as the center for the extermination of the Jews

In 1942-1944, as part of the “final solution of the Jewish question” (Endlösung der Judenfrage), Auschwitz served as the largest Nazi center for the destruction of the Jewish population of the European countries occupied by and allied to the Third Reich.

The majority of the Jews who arrived in Auschwitz in transports organized by the Reich Main Security Office (RSHA), at least 1.1 million people including more than 200 thousand children and young people, were killed in the gas chambers immediately or soon after arrival. These deportees included many figures from Jewish intellectual life: scholars and artists, including, for instance, the Polish-Jewish poet and dramatist Icchak Kacenelson (Itzhak Katzenelson), author of the poem Song of the Murdered Jewish People, who was one of a group of literary figures deported in May 1944.

Through the middle of July 1942, some of the transports arriving in Auschwitz were sent directly to the gas chambers, while other Jews, classified before deportation as fit for labor, were placed in the camp, as was the case with the Jews who arrived in the first transports from Slovakia.

On July 4, 1942 at the latest, regular selection was introduced for the Jews arriving on RSHA transports. As a result, an average of only 20% of them were kept alive and placed in the camp as prisoners capable of performing slave labor. They were employed mostly in constructing new parts of the camp, or at German companies involved in maintaining and developing the military potential of the Third Reich. They were transferred on a mass scale from Auschwitz to sub-camps set up nearby or in Upper Silesia, or to concentration camps in the depths of the Third Reich.

By the second half of 1942, Jews made up a majority of the prisoner population. They account for somewhat more than half of the 400 thousand prisoners registered in Auschwitz. The majority of them died either while they were in Auschwitz or after transfer to other camps.

There were instances in which the SS made exceptions to the practice of immediately selecting the Jews arriving in RSHA transports. This was the case, for instance, with the men, women, and children deported in seven transports, in September and December 1943 and May 1944, from the Theresienstadt ghetto-camp at Terezin in Czechoslovakia. All of them, about 18 thousand people, were placed in the so-called Czech family camp in Birkenau (sector BIIb). About 10 thousand of them were killed in the gas chambers in March and July 1944.

Transit camps

From May to October 1944, tens of thousands of Jews, mostly from Hungary and Poland, were held in separate parts of Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp defined as transit camps (Durchgangslager) without being registered individually. Referred to as “transit Jews” (Durchgangs-Juden), or “deposit,” they were held by the SS leadership as a labor reserve to be “distributed” on a gradual basis. They waited days, weeks, or months for the SS to arrive at a decision as to their fate—whether they would be assigned to work or sent to the gas chamber. Their situation was in fact worse than that of prisoners with camp numbers assigned to them. After a certain time, some of these “transit Jews” were registered in the camp (that is, tattooed with camp numbers on their left forearms) and sent to work in the various Auschwitz Concentration Camp labor details or sub-camps; thousands of others were transferred to camps in the depths of the Third Reich, to labor for the sake of the German war machine.

Countries of origin

The largest group among the Jews deported to Auschwitz in RSHA transports comprised the 430 thousand men, women, and children deported from Hungary between late April and August 1944. Auschwitz was also the final destination for about 300 thousand Jews from occupied Poland (above all, from the lands incorporated into the Third Reich), 73 thousand from the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia and from Slovakia, 69 thousand from France, 60 thousand from the Netherlands, 55 thousand from Greece, 25 thousand from Belgium, 23 thousand from Germany and Austria (thousands of German and Austrian Jews arrived in Auschwitz by way of the Theresienstadt ghetto-camp in Bohemia), 10 thousand from Yugoslavia, 7.5 thousand from Italy, and 690 from Norway. The German authorities and their foreign representatives were the initiators and primary organizers of these deportations.

Selections in the camp

Beginning in the second half of 1941, mostly among the prisoners in the “rewir” or camp hospital, SS doctors began carrying out the selection of Auschwitz prisoners, during which they put to death those prisoners they regarded as unfit for labor because of terminal exhaustion or sickness. They killed these prisoners by lethal injection of phenol to the heart, or sent them to the gas chamber. This practice was halted in the spring of 1943. Shortly afterwards, it was revived—but only for Jewish prisoners.

Extant camp documents (Zugangslisten Juden) indicate that, of the 973 Jews from Slovakia admitted to Auschwitz on April 17, 1942, only 88 remained alive less than 4 months later. The majority of Jewish prisoners met a similar fate; as noted previously, they constituted the lowest category within the multiethnic camp population. Surviving prisoners remembered as particularly drastic the high mortality rate in Auschwitz of Jews from Greece and Italy, who were accustomed to a warm climate, or the killing of newborn Jewish infants.

Auschwitz – the most important German Nazi concentration and death camp, seen after the war as a symbol of the entire Holocaust machine.

Auschwitz was established in mid-1940. Its first commandant (April 1940 – November 1943) was Rudolf Hoess, its second (November 1943 – May 1944) was Liebehenschel, and its last (May 1944 – January 1945) was Richard Baer.

Its oldest part-the main camp-was created in buildings of former military barracks that were adapted by the Germans, using Jewish labor from the Oswiecim (Auschwitz) Jewish Community. This part could hold from 15,000 to 20,000 prisoners. On May 20, 1940, thirty German criminal prisoners were brought from Sachsenhausen to Auschwitz and would serve as camp guards. On June 14, 1940, the first transport of Poles arrived from Tarnów, with 728 people. At first, the camp held Poles who had been taken in the mass arrests, particularly the intelligentsia and members of the resistance. During the first phase, this camp was no different than the numerous other concentration camps that had been founded in the 1930’s by the Germans within the Third Reich itself. Auschwitz continued to be a concentration camp as long as it existed, even after 1942, when it also became the largest death camp.

The prisoners who arrived had their personal belongings confiscated, then went through the “sauna” (baths) and were photographed, though it soon turned out their extreme exhaustion made the people’s faces unrecognizable. They had numbers tattooed on their forearms, and were issued prison uniforms (“stripes”) that had a symbol indicating the prisoner’s category. These included political prisoners, Jehovah’s Witnesses, priests, émigrés, anti-socials, common criminals and homosexuals. In addition, the Jews also had to wear yellow emblems, the Poles were given an additional letter “P”, French had an “F”, and separate symbols indicated one’s penal company, as well as those who were suspected of having tried to escape, or recidivists. The new arrivals were put in quarantine, which was an introduction to camp’s terror. The daily food ration was from 1,300 to 1,700 calories, which, with the hard work and bad conditions, led to quick exhaustion.

The prisoners worked in numerous commandos, some of which were so exhausting that the people assigned to work there had little chance of surviving more than a few months. These commandos worked in the camp services or on the camp’s expansion, or servicing the killing machine, sorting the victims’ belongings, and as slave labor on farms and in German companies. The camp had about 40 sub-camps, the largest of which (Buna-Monowitz, later known as Auschwitz III) held about 10,000 prisoners.

From late 1941 and early 1942, Auschwitz began functioning as a death camp for Jews, and from 1943 also for Roma. As early as April 1941, the residents of the village of Brzezinka were resettled and the village dismantled. The second part of the camp-Auschwitz-Birkenau-was built on over 140 hectares of land (plans had been made for 170 hectares). About three hundred barracks and other buildings were constructed. This part of the camp was designed for the purpose of extermination, a technical process that began at the ramp and ended in the gas chambers and crematorium.

The prisoners slated for immediate extermination were not put on the camp list. The transports were unloaded onto the ramp, where they were segregated according to sex. Selected individuals who were fit to work were also segregated. The rest were herded to the gas chambers. The wounded and disabled were transported by trucks. They were told that they would be washed and disinfected, and were ordered to undress. The people were sent into the gas chambers, the doors were closed, and the Zyklon B was released. Death occurred in up to twenty minutes, and sometimes after just a few. The victims’ glasses were taken, long hair cut, gold and silver teeth removed. In twenty-four hours, the five crematoria at Auschwitz could burn 4,500 corpses.

Despite the extreme conditions and the omnipresent terror, prisoners formed self-help groups within the camp, usually organized according to nationality. There were also various groups of the Polish underground organizations. Witold Pilecki’s efforts deserve special attention. In 1940, as a volunteer of the Polish underground, he allowed himself to be caught and sent to Auschwitz, with the aim of setting up cells of the resistance there.

Specific Polish resistance organizations united their structures and activities during the second half of 1941. In 1942, resistance activities spread to Birkenau and Monowitz. These activities were focused on assisting the prisoners and on collecting evidence and documenting German crimes. At least 802 prisoners attempted to escape, of which half were Poles. Of these, it is known that 144 were successful and survived the war. It was thanks to these escapes, among other things, that reports about what was happening in Auschwitz were sent to Warsaw almost from the camp’s earliest days. Beginning in 1941, the Home Army Headquarters sent London information about the situation in Auschwitz.

Before the Red Army arrived, the Germans began eliminating the traces of their crimes in 1944. Documents were destroyed, some sites were dismantled, and others were burnt or blown up, such as the gas chambers). In mid-January 1945, orders were issued for the final evacuation and liquidation of the camp. The prisoners able to march were evacuated in late January 1945 in the direction of the Reich. From January 17-21 1945, about 56,000 prisoners were led on foot from Auschwitz and its sub-camps. Many of them perished during the course of that horrendous evacuation, called “the death march”. The several thousand left in the camp were liberated by the soldiers of the Red Army on January 27, 1945.

It is difficult to determine the exact number of victims at Auschwitz. Seventy to seventy-five percent of the transports were sent directly to the gas chambers, without being entered into the camp’s records. The Nazis destroyed the camp documents. Rudolf Hoess’s testimony had to be verified through an arduous process of researching the transports and population loss in various cities and ghettos. Most historians estimate that approximately 1-1.5 million people perished at Auschwitz. The latest research estimates that 1.1 million Jews died at Auschwitz (primarily from Hungary and the prewar Polish territories), over 140,000 Poles, 20,000 Roma, 15,000 prisoners-of-war from the Red Army, and from 10,000 to 20,000 prisoners of other nationalities. Among those included in the camp’s records, 50% died from starvation, exhaustion, executions, disease, pseudo-medical experiments, and random acts perpetrated by Germans. Of the 7,000 Nazi camp functionaries, almost 1,000 were tried after the war.

On July 2, 1947, the Polish authorities created a museum at the site of the former camp. Both a memorial and a place of research, it is the largest such institution in the world. The museum is visited by over half a million people each year. Of these, half are Poles-primarily young people. The International Auschwitz Council oversees the museum’s activities. The museum’s conservation projects, which are becoming increasingly difficult with the passage of time, are supported by many states all over the world. The museum also conducts extensive publishing activities.

Visiting the museum is free of charge, though organized groups are asked to take a guided tour-available in English, Croatian, Czech, French, Spanish, Japanese, Dutch, German, Polish, Russian, Serbian, Slovak, Swedish, Hungarian and Italian. The museum’s educational program enables visitors to participate in various kinds of activities, including competitions and workshops. There is a wide variety of training programs designed for teachers, students and school-aged children.

More information about the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum is available

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