KZ Auschwitz-Birkenau

Initially, the Auschwitz concentration camp was only intended to relieve the overcrowded prisons in Poland. Only a few years later, the once unknown name had burned itself into the collective memory worldwide. As the epitome of a bureaucratically perfected murder machinery, a symbol of barbarism and mercilessness. At least 1.1 million people were gassed, shot and maltreated to death here.
Auschwitz is located on the western edge of the Polish town of Oświęcim and was used from 1940-1945 to exterminate Jews, other ethnic groups and political prisoners. The camp was established in the summer of 1940 in an abandoned barracks of the Polish army.

This location was chosen primarily because of its good transport links and the available accommodation. Originally, Auschwitz was built as a concentration and “protective custody” camp for Poles, mostly for political prisoners from the Polish intelligentsia, the resistance, the clergy and Polish army personnel, to relieve the burden on other prisons. Soon the first Polish Jews were also brought in, and from 1942 non-Polish Jews were also registered.
The largest German concentration camp consisted of 3 individual camps. Auschwitz I – Stammlager was the first camp on site and served as the administrative center of the entire camp complex. Approximately one million people were murdered in the Auschwitz II – Birkenau extermination camp. Auschwitz III – Monowitz was the third single camp in Auschwitz. It was mainly a forced labor camp. In addition, there were 39 other subcamps and satellite camps.


Reich Party Congress of the NSDAP. At a special session, the Reichstag passes the anti-Semitic “Nürnberger Gesetze,” the “Reichsbürgergesetz” and the “Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honor“.


Reichskristallnacht”  State-organized pogrom against Jews in Germany. Destruction of synagogues, stores and homes. Arrest of over 26.000 male Jews and incarceration in the concentration camps Dachau, Buchenwald and Sachsenhausen.


Hitler prophesies before the Reichstag in the event of war “the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe”.


27. April

After a series of inspections of various properties, Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler decrees to establish a concentration camp in Oswiecim, which by now was named Auschwitz, on the site of a former Polish artillery barracks.

30. April

SS-Hauptsturmführer Rudolf Höss arrives in Auschwitz with five SS men and immediately sets up a construction management for the concentration camp. The head of the construction management is SS-Unterscharführer Schlachter.

4. May

Reichsführer SS, Heinrich Himmler, appoints Rudolf Höß as camp commandant.

20. Mai

First prisoner transport arrives at Auschwitz. This first transport consisted of 30 prisoners from Sachsenhausen concentration camp, who were to form the core of the functional prisoners in the future camp under the supervision of SS Hauptscharführer Gerhard Palitzsch.

14. June

First transport of 728 Polish political prisoners and some Jews from Tarnow prison arrives at Auschwitz. June 14 was declared a national day of remembrance for Polish victims of Nazi concentration camps by the Polish Parliament in 2006.

22. November

During the first execution by firing squad 40 Poles die.


26. February

IG Farben director Carl Krauch obtains an order from Reichsführer SS, Heinrich Himmler, for the construction of a Buna plant in Auschwitz by concentration camp prisoners.

1. March

Heinrich Himmler goes to Auschwitz for the first time for an inspection.
Himmler gives Höß the following orders, among others:
– Expansion of the camp
– Deployment of 10.000 prisoners for the construction of the I.G. Farben factories
– Resettlement of the Jewish inhabitants of the town of Auschwitz
– the main camp to be increased to a capacity of 30.000 prisoners
– Establishment of an additional camp in Birkenau for 100.000 prisoners of war
– Establishment of an industrial zone in Dwory (outskirts of Auschwitz) for methanol and artificial rubber production by I.G. Farben, called “Buna,” for the construction of which 10.000 prisoners are to be detached
– Upgrading of the camp’s “area of interest” in agricultural terms
– Expansion of the camp workshops (Deutsche Ausrüstungswerke, DAW)

3. March

In response to a prisoner’s escape, camp commander Rudolf Höss sentences 10 prisoners to starvation for the first time.

6. June

First transport of Czech political prisoners. Beginning of deportations of non-Poles to Auschwitz.

3. September

First gassing attempt with Zyklon B in the previously sealed detention cells of the cellar in Block 11 of the “Stammlager”. In the process, 600 Russian prisoners of war and 298 sick prisoners are murdered.

8. October

Two kilometers from the main camp (Stammlager), construction of the Birkenau camp begins for an initial 50.000 prisoners, with a planned expansion capacity of up to 200.000 inmates. Later, a total of 45 forced labor camps are built in the surrounding area.

11. November

During the first execution at the Wall of Death, the SS shoots 151 Polish prisoners.



The first provisional gas chamber in Birkenau with a capacity of about 800 people, called the “red house” or “Bunker I,” is put into operation. This is followed in May by the “white house” (“Bunker II”), which can hold 1.200 people. The bodies were burned in the crematorium of the main camp or thrown into mass graves.

1. March

The Auschwitz II-Birkenau camp begins operations.


Representatives of the IG Farben group visit the camp in Birkenau.


Start of deportation of 27.00 Jews from Slovakia and 69.000 Jews from France to Auschwitz.

4. May

In the isolation ward of KL Auschwitz-Birkenau, an SS-Sanitätsdienstgrad (SDG) carries out the first (known) selection of sick prisoners. Systematic extermination begins; those deemed unfit for work are immediately murdered.

12. May

In the first precisely dated mass gassing at the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp, 1.500 Jewish men, women and children from the neighboring Polish town of Sosnowiec are murdered.


The railroad ramp at which the transports with prisoners arrive, the so-called Judenrampe between the camps Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau, is put into operation.


Start of deportation of 300,000 Polish Jews and 23,000 Jews from Germany and Austria.

4. Jule

A Sonderkommando is formed, consisting of several dozen Jewish prisoners. They have to dig trenches near the bunkers and bury those killed in the gas chambers. The Kommando is completely isolated from the other prisoners.

17. July

Heinrich Himmler visits Auschwitz concentration camp July 17-18.

6. August

All female prisoners from the main camp are transferred to Birkenau in section BI a.

15. August

In the office of the Central Construction Management, the plan of a new type of crematorium is worked out, according to which the next Crematoria IV and V in the area of KL Birkenau will be built.

19. August

The representative of the J. A. Topf u. Söhne company from Erfurt, Chief Engineer Prüfer, meets with representatives of the Central Construction Management for discussions on the construction of crematorium ovens for the cremation of corpses.

26. August

The SS-WVHA grants the camp management another driving permit for 1 truck of Zyklon B from Dessau on the grounds: special treatment (Sonerbehandlung).

31. August

The first 2.000 prisoners are transferred to the newly built Auschwitz-Monowitz subcamp right next to the Buna factory.


26. February

Establishment of the so-called Gypsy family camp for Sinti and Roma families in Birkenau.

5. March

In the presence of Topf & Söhne employees (Schultze), a trial cremation of 45 corpses and instruction of SK prisoners in the operation of the incinerators takes place.


Start of the deportation of 55.000 Jews from Greece.

28. Juni

In a message dated 28.06.1943 Bischoff informs the head of the WVHA Amtsgruppe C (Construction) SS- Obergruppenführer and General der Waffen-SS Hans Kammler:
The construction of Crematorium III has been completed; a total of 4.756 corpses can now be cremated daily in 5 crematoria.


Start of the deportation of 7.500 Jews from Italy.

31. December

According to surviving “Belegstärke” and “Arbeitseinsatzlisten,” a total of 29.513 female prisoners lived in Auschwitz-Birkenau on December 31, 1943, of whom 8.266 were considered sick or “unable to work.”


5. April

Obersturmführer Gerstein demands in writing from the Dgesch an immediate shipment of 5 tons of ZyklonB.

11. April

After a nine-day journey, a transport with 2,500 Jews arrives at KL Auschwitz in sealed freight cars. This transport comes from Athens. After “selection,” 328 women and 320 men are registered as prisoners. About 1.850 people are sent to “special treatment”. One of the deported, is the former Greek naval officer Errera Alberto from Larissa (* 1913 in Thessaloniki). He was assigned to the Jewish Sonderkommando. From Errera come the unique photographs of the corpse burnings, secretly taken and smuggled out of the camp.

16. May

Railroad ramp within the camp is put into operation, this “enables” the transport directly to the gas chambers II and III. Start of the deportation of 438.000 Jews from Hungary, 85 percent are killed immediately.

28. July

A report from the “Labor Deployment” department shows that the prisoners of the Sonderkommando worked 24 hours in two shifts of 12 hours each on that day:

Crematorium II
110 prisoners of the day shift
104 prisoners of the night shift
Crematory III
110 prisoners of the day shift
104 prisoners of the night shift
Crematorium IV
110 inmates of the day shift
109 prisoners of the night shift
Crematorium V
110 inmates of the day shift
110 prisoners of the night shift

30 prisoners unloading wood in Crematorium IV (V), where corpses were also burned in open-air pits.

3. August

On the night of August 2 to 3, the so-called Family Gypsy Camp is liquidated in the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp; the SS murders almost 3.000 Sinti and Roma in the gas chambers.

12. August

Start of deportation of 13,000 Poles arrested in mass arrests following the outbreak of the Warsaw Uprising.


Start of the deportation of 67,000 Jews from the Litzmannstadt ghetto.

7. September

A report from the “Arbeitseinsatz” department shows a total of 874 prisoners as “Crematoria Stokers” for the day and night shifts in all Birkenau crematoria on September 7, 1944.

3. October

According to surviving “Belegstärke” and “Arbeitseinsatzlisten,” a total of 43.462 female prisoners were imprisoned at Auschwitz-Birkenau on October 3.

7. October

A riot breaks out among the prisoners of the Sonderkommando, which has to burn the corpses in the crematoria. Three SS men and 451 prisoners of the Sonderkommando are killed.

20. October

In 1961, the records of the Jew Salmen Lewenthal were found buried in the ground next to one of the crematoria. Salmen Lewenthal was one of the Jewish men who worked in a “Sonderkommando”. He had recorded his experiences in a book and wisely buried it. Salmen Leventhal recounts here what happened on October 20, 1944, when about 600 children were led to one of the crematoria.

2. November

Cessation of general killing with poison gas. From now on, selected prisoners will be shot in front of Crematorium V or in the gas chambers.

6. November

On November 6, 1944, SS-Oberscharführer Boger Wilhelm, together with SS-Oberscharführer Erber Josef (until 1944 Josef Houstek), shot at least 100 prisoners of the Jewish Sonderkommando by neck shot.

25. November

Himmler orders the dismantling of the death camp. The dismantling begins with the removal of the vacuum pumps from gas chamber 2, which was used to extract the gases after the murder process. The machine goes to Mauthausen, the pipes to Groß-Rosen.


15. January

Work is still underway on the demolition of Crematoria II and III. Crematorium V is still in operation and employs 30 prisoners to cremate corpses.

17. January

The prisoners of the Sonderkommando lined up for the last evening roll call in the camp on this day. A total of 67.012 prisoners participated in the “letzten Lagerappell” on January 17. In the days following January 17, 1945, about 58.000 prisoners were evacuated under the supervision of SS men.

Death march (Todesmarsch)
At 4:00 p.m. on January 17, the first treks set off in a westerly and southwesterly direction to other camps, for thousands it will be the march to death.

19. January

At one o’clock on January 19 comes the order for the departure of the last train – it consists of 3.900 emaciated people.

22. January

The Higher SS Police Leader Upper Silesia SS-Obergruppenführer Heinrich Schmauser receives the order for the final liquidation of the concentration camp Auschwitz – Birkenau. Once again, shootings begin. The SS special units kill about 700 prisoners.

23. January

30 magazine barracks in the effects camp are set on fire. After the liberation, six barracks with clothes of the murdered prisoners were preserved. In them were found 1,185,345 pieces of men’s and women’s clothing, 43,255 pairs of shoes, 13,694 carpets and a large number of toothbrushes, shaving brushes, prostheses and eyeglasses.

26. January

The last crematorium – gas chamber is blown up.

27. January

In the morning, blasting of crematorium IV.

On the afternoon of January 27, 1945, at about 3 p.m., the first units of the 60th Infantry Division of the 1st Ukrainian Front arrived at the Auschwitz I main camp. Shortly thereafter, the Soviets also reached Auschwitz II Birkenau. They found about 7.600 prisoners still there, completely debilitated and sick men and women, as well as 180 children. In the first days after the liberation, 222 prisoners still died.

28. February

Due to the improvement in the weather, 470 deceased (including 222 prisoners who had died after the liberation) were solemnly buried in a small cemetery outside the camp.

7. March

On March 7, 1945, the commission found 293 bales of women’s hair in the tannery of the Auschwitz camp, which together weighed 7.000 kg. The commission’s expert determined that the hair had been cut from 140.000 women.

On June 2, 1947, two years after the liberation, a memorial was erected in the former death camp by a decision of the Polish Parliament as a memorial for future generations. Auschwitz became the most important symbol of the Holocaust.

Since 1960 – in the former concentration camp Auschwitz I, the main camp, are located the so-called “National Exhibitions”.

1962 – a protection zone was established around the museum in order to preserve the historical condition of the camp. These zones were confirmed as a law by the Polish Parliament in 1999.

1967 – the first major memorial, the International Memorial to the Victims of Fascism, was inaugurated in the area of Auschwitz II between the crematoria.

Origin of Jewish prisoners:

– 430.000 from Hungary
– 300.000 from Poland
– 69.000 from France
– 60.000 from the Netherlands
– 55.000 from Greece
– 46.000 from the Czech Republic
– 27.000 from Slovakia
– 25.000 from Belgium
– 23.000 from Austria/Germany
– 10.000 from Yugoslavia
– 7.500 from Italy
– 700 from Norway
– 34.000 from other countries

Proportions of the various groups deported to Auschwitz:

– 1.100,000 Jews
– 140.000 to 150.000 Poles
– 23.000 Gypsies
– 15.000 Soviet prisoners of war
– 25.000 people of other nations


Danuta Czech
Calendar of events in the concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau 1939–1945. Rowohlt, Hamburg, 1989.

Robert-Jan van Pelt, Deborah Dwork
Auschwitz, From 1270 until today, Verlag: Pendo


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