Auschwitz is the German name for the nearby town of Oswiecim, situated about 60 kilometers (37 miles) west of Krakow in southern Poland.
Konzentrationslager Auschwitz-Birkenau was the largest of the Nazi German extermination camps. The exact number of people killed in the camps is not known, but most modern estimates are around 1.1-1.6 million.
June 14, 1940, when the first transport of Polish political prisoner deportees arrived in Auschwitz, is regarded as the date when it began to function.
Over the following years, the camp was expanded and consisted of three main parts: Auschwitz I, Auschwitz II-Birkenau, and Auschwitz III-Monowitz. It also had over 40 sub-camps. At first, Poles were imprisoned and died in the camp. Afterwards, Soviet prisoners of war, Gypsies, and prisoners of other nationalities were also incarcerated there.
Beginning in 1942, the camp became the site of the greatest mass murder in the history of humanity, which was committed against the European Jews as part of Hitler’s plan for the complete destruction of that people.
The majority of the Jewish men, women and children deported to Auschwitz were sent to their deaths in the Birkenau gas chambers immediately after arrival. At the end of the war, in an effort to remove the traces of the crimes they had committed, the SS began dismantling and razing the gas chambers, crematoria, and other buildings, as well as burning documents.
Prisoners capable of marching were evacuated into the depths of the Reich. Those who remained behind in the camp were liberated by Red Army soldiers on January 27, 1945.
A July 2, 1947 act of the Polish parliament established the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum on the grounds of the two extant parts of the camp, Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau.
The site was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1979.