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Auschwitz Concentration Camp

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In the system of Nazi concentration camps, the Auschwitz Concentration Camp was the largest, both as an killing facility and slave labor camp. Estimates vary, but conservatively, 2 million people died there. "Auschwitz" was the German equivalent to the Polish Oświęcim.

It was in service between 1940 and 1945, built, after approval by Heinrich Himmler after a late 1939 recommendation from Erich von dem Bach-Zelewski, HSSPF for southeastern Poland, and his staff. [1] It has been designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, under the name ""Auschwitz Birkenau - German Nazi Concentration and Extermination Camp (1940-1945)".[2]

Originally, it was organized as a single camp, but split into three major subcamps, and eventually had a very large number of smaller slave labor details in the field, as well as smaller subcamps.

Establishment

Von dem Bach-Zelewski sent the request to Himmler after Arpad Wigand, one of his staff, suggested it in late 1939. Wigand said it was a solution to overcrowding of the prisons of Upper Silesia and the Dabrowa Basin. Wigand said this would get worse after planned mass arrests of the resistance members in Silesia and the General–Government.

Wigand believed the existing barracks there could immediately be used for holding prisoners, but that the isolated area Also, the area lent itself to expansion, both because it had good railroad connections and because Poles "considered this remote corner of their country too inhospitable to live in."[3] barracks outside the town in the fork of the Vistula and Sola rivers, in the region called Zasole, would make a future expansion of the camp possible and ensure its isolation from the outside world. A further argument in favour of its proposed siting was the convenient railway connections with Silesia, the General-Government, Czechoslovakia and Austria.

n the first days of January 1940, the Inspector of Concentration Camps, SS-Oberführer Richard Gluecks sent a commission headed by SS-Sturmbannführer Walter Eisfeld, commandant of Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp, to Auschwitz.

The location was picked for major expansion after Himmler's visit in March 1941 Rudolf Hoess, who had commanded Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp, was selected as the first Auschwitz commandant.

Organization

A member of the SS-WVHA, the Commandant was in overall charge, commander of the Totenkopf-SS garrison and the director of the SS economic enterprises. The Commandants were Rudolf Hoess (May 1940 to November 1943), Arthur Liebehenschel (November 1943-May 1944), and Richard Baer (May 1944-January 1945). All camp officers were of surprisingly low rank for the scope of their activity; the commandants were the SS equivalents of lieutenant colonel (Obersturmbannfuehrer) or major (Sturmbannfuehrer).

While the Lagerfuehrer, or camp leader, was the official deputy commandant, the commandant might have an influential adjutant. Josef Kramer was Hoess' adjutant.

Camp operations

Prisoner operations were under the Lagerfuehrer, sometimes called the 'Schutzhaftlagerführer or protective custody camp leader. This individual was also deputy commandant.

Below the Lagerfueher were Rapportsfuehrers, responsible for reporting and shift operations leaders. Below them were Blockfuehrers, responsible for individual barracks or other facilities.

All of the above were SS personnel, the Lagerfuehrer being a commissioned officer, the Rapportsfuehrers being junior officers or noncommissioned officers, and those below noncommissioned or enlisted.

Political section

The Political Section was part of the RSHA, with separate reporting to its headquarters, principally its Gestapo branch. It did, however, work with the WVHA parts of the camp.

Mass killing

Service functions

An agricultural department was esponsible for the development of farming and stockbreeding and also with research into experimental plant stations. Himmler was especially interested in agriculture. The department was managed by SS-Obersturmbannfuhrer Joachim Caesar.

A central construction board was directly subordinated to WVHA, and managed the planning, construction and extension of the camps and extermination facilities. It was managed, successively, managed by SS-Sturmbannfuhrer Karl Bischoff, then, in 1944, by SS-Obersturmfuhrer Werner Jothann.

Operations

In 1943, prisoner doctor-pathologist Miklos Nyiszli described what he saw on arriving: "...an immense square chimney built of red brigs tapering towards the summit. I was especially struch by the enormous tongues of flame rising betwen the lightning rods....I tried to realize what hellish cooking would require such a tremendous fire....A faint wind brought the smoke towards me. My nose, then my throat, were filled with the nauseating odor of burning flesh and scorched hair."[3]

Liberation

References

  1. Auschwitz Concentration Camp: The Historical Timeline, Holocaust Research Project
  2. World Heritage Committee approves Auschwitz name change, UNESCO
  3. 3.0 3.1 Gerald Posner and John Ware (1986), Mengele: the Complete Story, McGraw-Hill, ISBN 0070505985, p. 19