Auschwitz is a German name for Polish town of Oswiecim. It is located in southern Poland, 60 km (40 mi) from Krakow. During the Second World War, like other parts of Poland, it was occupied by the Germans. In the spring of 1940 Heinrich Himmler (the head of SS) issued an order to establish a prison camp in Auschwitz. At the beginning, mainly the elite of Polish people were sent there as they were considered to be especially dangerous. Throughout its existence the camp expanded and soon other nationalities such as Gypsies, Soviets and first of all Jews were placed there. In 1942 Zyklon B gas was introduced in Auschwitz. Since then the camp became the Nazi death factory where people were killed in the industrialized manner with the use of gas chambers and crematorium ovens. Auschwitz consisted of three separate camps: Auschwitz I, Auschwitz II Birkenau and Auschwitz III Monowitz. There were also over 40 sub-camps where people were forced into slave labour. 90% of victims were Jews. They were sent to Auschwitz from all over Europe and the vast majority of them were unaware of their fate. Germans isolated Auschwitz from the outside world by high electric barbed wire fencing.
Between 1,3 and 1,5 million people were killed in Auschwitz. Most of them were gassed, the others died of starvation, epidemics, executions or medical experiments of Josef Mengele. Auschwitz has become a symbol of the Holocaust. When in January 1945 Soviet army approached the Auschwitz, the SS decided to evacuate prisoners into Germany and destroy the camp. 60 000 people were forced on so-called death march. Approximately 15 000 of them died on the way.
On January 27 Auschwitz Concentration Camp was liberated by the Soviet forces. They found around 7 000 ill and dying prisoners. The Nazis were only partially successful in obliterating the traces of their crimes. They did not have enough time to blow up all buildings and much of the camp remained intact. In 1947 the grounds of Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II Birkenau were converted into a museum and memorial. Konzentrationslager Auschwitz was the Nazis’ biggest extermination camp in occupied Europe and one of the worst acts of genocide in human history.