- Concentration Camp
- Killing Centre
- Mixed Camp
Auschwitz starts as a concentration camp. During the summer of 1941, Heinrich Himmler, the head of the SS, decided to transform Auschwitz into a killing centre. Auschwitz-Birkenau became the largest camp operated by the Nazis. Over one million Jews were killed in the camp, along with approximately 74,000 Poles, 21,000 Roma and 15,000 Soviet prisoners of war. More people were deported and killed in Auschwitz-Birkenau than in any other Nazi camp during the war and it has thus become a key symbol of the Holocaust.
Treblinka is the main killing centre for the Jews of the Warsaw ghetto. The purpose of the camp is to kill every deportee within a few hours of arrival. The camp is far from perfectly organized and the disposal of corpses is a major issue. An unbearable smell surrounds the place and people in the area cannot be unaware of the massive killing operations. An estimated 870,000 to 925,000 people were killed in Treblinka, either shot or gassed in chambers.
Majdanek is built to provide forced labourers for the future permanent German settlements in occupied Poland and Soviet Union. Between October 1942 and September 1943, two, possibly three, gas chambers are built at Majdanek to eliminate prisoners no longer capable of work, using Zyklon B and carbon monoxide gas. Majdanek is known for the terrible abuse inflicted on forced labourers; thousands of them die of torture and starvation. Gassing, for the most part, is reserved for Jews. Between 95,000 and 130,000 people are estimated to have been killed in Majdanek. Among them, were between 80,000 and 92,000 Jews, as well as Poles and Soviet prisoners of war.
Chelmno is the first killing centre created by the SS, near the city of Lodz. The “killing centre” consists of a manor in the town of Chelmno and a large forest clearing. The SS use vans to kill Jews and Roma with the carbon monoxide gas from the vans’ exhaust. The same technique had been used to kill institutionalized handicapped children and adults in the so-called Euthanasia or T4 program in Germany. Between December 1941 and the end of 1942, the Nazis and their henchmen kill about 152,000 Jews, and about 5 000 Roma in the Chelmno gas vans.
Belzec has fixed facilities for gassing that use carbon monoxide gas from the exhaust fumes of a motor vehicle engine. After expansion in June 1942, the camp has six gas chambers capable of killing 1,500 people at one time. Belzec, like Treblinka and Sobibor, was created solely to efficiently kill thousands of people as part of Operation Reinhard. In only 9 months of killing operations, an estimated 434,000 to 600,000 Jews are killed in Belzec along with an undetermined number of Roma. Only one inmate from Belzec survived the war.
Part of Operation Reinhard, Sobibor operates for a year and a half, during which approximately 170,000 to 250,000 Jews are killed by carbon monoxide gassing. The guards select some Jews as workers in the killing process, and the rest of the deportees are gassed immediately. Sobibor camp officers are German and Austrian SS members. Camp guards under their command are ethnic Germans as well as Soviet prisoners of war, primarily from Ukraine. Some administrators of the killing centre had previously worked at one of the so-called euthanasia program killing centres in Germany.
Prisoners' Revolt in Treblinka
On August 2, 1943, prisoners assigned to forced labour stage a revolt in Treblinka. The prisoners seize weapons from the camp armoury, but SS guards in the camp discover the plot before it could be completed. Hundreds of prisoners storm the main gate in an attempt to escape. More than 300 prisoners escape, but the SS and police personnel eventually recapture and kill about 200 of them. Deportations to Treblinka stop a few weeks after the uprising and the camp is dismantled.
Revolt in Sobibor
In the summer of 1943, Polish Jewish forced labourers form an underground group, led by Leon Feldhendler, in the Sobibor killing centre. On September 23, 1943, 2,000 Soviet Jewish prisoners of war from Minsk are deported to the camp. One of them, Alexander Petsjerski, who had been a lieutenant in the Red Army, join the Felhendler group and prepare an uprising. At 4:00 p.m. on October 14, 1943, the first SS soldier is killed with an axe. Ten more SS men are killed, as are several Ukrainian guards. About 300 prisoners escape. Most are killed by their Nazi pursuers or die crossing the minefields surrounding the camp. Only 50 of the escapees survived the war. After the revolt, the Germans started dismantling the camp and planted the site with crops to hide the evidence of the mass graves.
Sonderkommados revolt in Birkenau
Members of the Jewish prisoner Sonderkommando, the prisoners who were forced to remove bodies from the gas chambers and operate the crematoria, stage an uprising. On October 7, 1944 they blow up the roof of Birkenau's Crematorium IV and kill three guards. The gun powder had been smuggled by four female prisoners working in one of the camp's ammunition factories. However, the SS guards were quick to suppress the revolt and all the prisoners involved in the uprising were killed.
Opening of the concentration camp Auschwitz near the town of Oswiecim, Poland. Prisoners are assigned to forced labour.
Zyklon B gas is used for the first time in Auschwitz to kill 600 Soviet prisoners of war and 250 other prisoners considered ill or weak.
Majdanek concentration camp is built outside Lublin in October. The same month, the camp of Birkenau is built next to Auschwitz. In November, a labour camp is created in Treblinka. The systematic deportation of Jews from Germany, Austria and the annexed Czech lands of Bohemia and Moravia begins. In three months, 42,000 of them are deported to ghettos in Lodz, Minsk, Kaunas and Riga. Starting in November, 50,000 more are sent to ghettos in the Baltic States and Belarus.
Killing operations begin at the Chelmno killing centre with the gassing of 800 Jews from nearby towns.
The deportation of 65,000 Jews from the Lodz ghetto to Chelmno begins. The Wannsee Conference takes place on January 20. Representatives of the SS, the NSDAP and various Reich ministries meet on the invitation of Reinhard Heydrich, Head of the Security Police. The subject of the meeting is the “Final Solution of the Jewish Question”. Heydrich takes a leading role in the deportations and involves key ministries and party departments in the preparations for the murder of the European Jews.
Opening of the Belzec killing centre. Start of "Operation Reinhard", during which the Jews of Poland are sent to the killing centres of Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka. On March 24 starts the deportation of Slovak Jews to Auschwitz-Birkenau and Majdanek. On March 27, the first deportation train leaves France. Deportations will intensify in the summer of 1942. In total, 65,000 Jews will be deported from France, mainly to Auschwitz-Birkenau and Sobibor.
Opening of the Sobibor killing centre.
Gas chambers are built at Birkenau. Deportation of 61,400 Jews from the Lublin district to Sobibor begins; most of them are originally from the Greater German Reich and Slovakia.
Opening of the killing centre of Treblinka (known as Treblinka II).
Systematic deportation of Jews from the Netherlands begins on July 15; in total, 60,000 people will be sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau and 34,000 to Sobibor. On July 22, the deportation of Jews from the Warsaw ghetto starts; by September, approximately 300,000 people are deported to be killed in Treblinka.
7,000 Jews from Croatia are deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Deportation of Jews from Belgium and Luxembourg to Auschwitz-Birkenau begins; a total of 25,000 people are deported from Belgium and 700 from Luxembourg.
700 Norwegian Jews are deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Most Jews remaining in Germany are deported to Terezin and to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Transports from Terezin to Auschwitz start on October 28. The deportation of over 110,000 Jews from the district of Bialystok to Treblinka II also starts in October 1942.
346,000 Jews from the Radom district and 33,300 Jews from the Lublin district are deported to Treblinka II.
25,000 Jews are transported from Belzec to Majdanek and are killed upon arrival. The Belzec killing centre then closes.
11,000 Jews from Bulgarian-occupied regions of Greece are deported to Treblinka II. In the same month, 45,000 Greek Jews, most of them from Salonika, are sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Prisoners of Treblinka II revolt.
From July to October, 13,700 people from the Soviet Union are deported to Sobibor.
On October 14,300 prisoners of Sobibor manage to escape. Shortly after, the Sobibor killing centre closes. The deportation of 8,000 Italian Jews to Auschwitz-Birkenau begins.
On November 3, 18,000 Jews of Lublin, including 8,000 Majdanek prisoners are shot in one day in Operation “Erntefest” (harvest festival) in the camp of Majdanek. In the same month, the Treblinka II killing centre is dismantled; all traces of the camp’s existence are removed.
The deportation of 440,000 Jews from Hungary to Auschwitz-Birkenau begins.
In June, during the liquidation of the Lodz ghetto, 7,200 Jews are deported to Chelmno. In July, the camp of Majdanek is liberated by Soviet forces with fewer than 500 prisoners left in the camp.
A group of Jewish prisoners is brought to Chelmno to exhume and cremate the remaining corpses and to obliterate evidence of the mass murder operations. The prisoners are killed once their work is done.
A prisoners uprising is organized in Birkenau.
On January 18, 1945 in Auschwitz-Birkenau, the SS force 60,000 prisoners on a death march toward Germany. On January 27, 1945 the camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau is liberated by the Soviet forces. 7,000 prisoners remain in the camp, most of them ill or dying.