Little Bits of History

January 27

Posted in History by patriciahysell on January 27, 2017

1945: Auschwitz concentration camp is liberated. The camp was part of the Nazi system built by the Third Reich in Poland. The original camp, Auschwitz I, and the second camp, Auschwitz II-Birkenau were later joined by Auschwitz III-Monowitz. The first of the concentration camps was built in 1940 and the first extermination of prisoners took place in September 1941. Auschwitz II-Birkenau went on to become a major site for the Nazi Final Solution to the Jewish Question. Between 1942 and late 1944 trains brought prisoners to the camp in droves. Jews especially were brought here where they were killed in gas chambers filled with the pesticide Zyklon B. At least 1.1 million people were killed at Auschwitz II-Birkenau, with about 90% of them Jews. Seventeen percent of all Jews killed in the Holocaust died at this camp.

Jews were not the only people sent to Auschwitz. There were also 150,000 Poles, 23,000 Romani and Sinti, 15,000 Russian POWs, 400 Jehovah’s Witnesses, and tens of thousands of others. Another targeted group were homosexuals who were persecuted regardless of religion or national origin. The gas chambers were not the only way for prisoners to die. Others were killed by starvation, forced labor, disease, executions, and medical experimentation. The Nazi staff at Auschwitz consisted of about 7,000 members of the German Schutzstaffel or SS and about 12% of the staff was later convicted of war crimes. Rudolf Höss, the camp commandant, was executed for his role in the mass killings.

During the last half of 1944, when the War was coming to an end, not in favor of the Third Reich, there were about 130,000 prisoners held at Auschwitz. As the Soviet Red Army got ever nearer, about half of the prisoners were transported to other, more distant, prisons. As the Red Army entered Poland in November 1944, Himmler ordered the mass scale gassing operations to cease not only at Auschwitz but across the Reich. Creamatorias were dismantled or repurposed into air raid shelters. The SS was ordered to get rid of evidence of the mass executions. To that end, as the Red Army drew ever closer, the remaining staff burned records and demolished many buildings.

At the beginning of the month, Himmler ordered evacuations of all camps. On January 17, 58,000 Auschwitz prisoners began a forced march towards Wodzisław Śląski but thousands died or were killed on the march. On this day, the 322nd Rifle Division of the Red Army liberated the camp were only 7,500 prisoners remained alive along with over 600 corpses. Also found at the camp were 370,000 men’s suits, 837,000 women’s garments, and 8.5 tons of human hair. This date is celebrated as International Holocaust Remembrance Day and the camp site has been dedicated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The sad and horrible conclusion is that no one cared that Jews were being murdered… This is the Jewish lesson of the Holocaust and this is the lesson which Auschwitz taught us.  – Ariel Sharon

That I survived the Holocaust and went on to love beautiful girls, to talk, to write, to have toast and tea and live my life – that is what is abnormal. – Elie Wiesel

Jews survived all the defeats, expulsions, persecutions and pogroms, the centuries in which they were regarded as a pariah people, even the Holocaust itself, because they never gave up the faith that one day they would be free to live as Jews without fear. – Jonathan Sacks

The Holocaust, taken by itself, is a black hole. To look at it directly is to be swallowed up by it. – David Novak