This was the first Nazi concentration camp established outside of Germany during World War II, located in a wooded area near a small town called Stutthof (now named Sztutowo) and 34km east of the Free City of Danzig (now Gdansk).
The camp was established directly after the invasion of Poland and was initially designated as a civilian internment camp prior to becoming a labour education camp in November 1941 and finally a regular concentration camp in January 1942.
Before the war even began, the German Selbstschutz (ethnic-German self-protection units) had created lists of people that were to be arrested and detained. The Nazi authorities had also secretly started to review suitable locations to establish concentration camps in the area.
Stutthof was the last camp liberated by the Allies on 9th May 1945 and it is estimated that between 63,000 and 65,000 prisoners of the camp and its subcamps died as a result of execution, hunger, disease, extreme labour conditions, and a lack of medical attention. As many as 28,000 of those who died were Jews. Other inmates of Stutthof included citizens from 28 different countries.
The conditions in Stutthof were incredibly harsh, those who were not gassed, shot, clubbed to death, drowned in mud or given a lethal injection of phenol could just as easily die during one of the two typhus epidemics that swept through the camp.
Initially the camp consisted of eight barracks to house the prisoners in addition to buildings for the SS guards and was surrounded by a barbed-wire fence. Stutthof was enlarged in 1943 with a new camp constructed alongside the earlier one containing thirty new barracks, a crematorium and a gas chamber, all surrounded by an electrified barbed-wire fence. Stutthof was included in the “Final Solution” in June 1944 and mass executions began assisted by mobile gas wagons to complement the maximum capacity of the gas chamber.
Many prisoners were used as forced labourers working in an armaments factory located inside the camp next to the prisoner barracks or in a Focke-Wulf aircraft factory, which was constructed nearby.
The evacuation of 50,000 prisoners from the Stutthof camp and subcamps began on 25th January 1945. Thousands died marching in severe winter conditions combined with brutal treatment by SS guards. Around 5,000 were marched to the Baltic Sea coast, forced into the water, and machine-gunned. It has been estimated that around half of the evacuated prisoners, over 25,000, died during the evacuation from Stutthof and its subcamps.
The camp itself was liberated by Soviet forces on 9th May 1945, rescuing about 100 prisoners who had managed to hide.
Today, there is a museum at Stutthof. During a tour of the camp, you can see a narrow gauge railway line that runs around the camp, the camp commandant’s villa, kennels, the main entry to Stutthof concentration camp, better known as the ‘Death Gate’, guard towers, barracks, gas chamber, crematorium, the original dual-layer barbed-wire fence and various exhibitions.
Treblinka was an extermination camp, built and operated by Nazi Germany in occupied Poland during World War II. Together with the camps at Bełżec and Sobibor, the camp operated as part of Operation Reinhard, the deadliest phase of the Final Solution, so called in memory of Reinhard Heydrich, a high-ranking German SS and police official during the Nazi era and one of the main architects of the Holocaust.
The camp was located in a forest north-east of Warsaw, 4km south of the village of Treblinka in what is now the Masovian Voivodeship.
Treblinka operated between 23 July 1942 and 19 October 1943 and during this time, it is estimated that 870,000 people were murdered there. More Jews were killed at Treblinka than at any other Nazi extermination camp apart from Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Treblinka was divided into three parts and was a highly efficient death factory. One part of the camp was for the use of staff and housed workshops, another part was set aside as a reception area for prisoners and the third part was the extermination area.
A narrow alley known as the ‘pipe’ connected the reception area with the extermination area allowing for quick transportation of prisoners to the gas chambers. The extermination area also contained mass graves and woodpiles for the cremation of prisoners.
Unlike other extermination camps, prisoners at Treblinka were murdered almost immediately upon arrival at the camp. There was no tattooing, no huts, no wooden bunks and no forced labour. People went straight to the gas chambers as soon as they alighted from their transport.
Initially, there were three gas chambers at Treblinka with the capacity to asphyxiate 300-500 people per hour. Ten much bigger gas chambers were added in September 1942 increasing the capacity to between 1000-2000 people per hour.
Prisoners arrived in the village of Treblinka by transport trains, each with forty to fifty trucks carrying 6,000 to 7,000 people. From there, they were transported to the camp 4km away by convoys of trucks. On arrival at the camp, men were separated from the women and children and were forced to strip naked.
They were then driven down the, ‘pipe’ into the, ‘bath house’ where they died of gas poisoning within about 15 minutes.
The bodies were initially buried in mass graves but later were cremated on the orders of Heinrich Himmler who was already thinking about how to cover up the genocide. This was also required of the victims that had already been buried, and so the mass graves had to be opened and the bodies burned. The remains and the ash were thrown back into the graves.
The clothes and items left by the victims in the deportation barracks before the ‘shower’ were sorted. Gradually, bankers and goldsmiths were selected from the transports and formed into a commando called the Goldjuden – Gold Jews. Their job was to collect and classify any valuables, which were then vigorously traded by Germans, Ukrainians and the local population.
The first transports to Treblinka came from the Warsaw ghetto. Between the 23rd of July and the 21st of August 1942, a total of 254,000 Jews from Warsaw and 112,000 from other parts of the Warsaw region were murdered here.
What to expect from this tour
Visit the museum and memorial to World War II in Treblinka, the second-biggest Nazi extermination camp.
Start your tour at the south end of the Warsaw Ghetto, where now the Palace of Culture and Science is. There, with your guide, you will see the memorial to Janusz Korczak, an educator, children-author and pedagogue, who went to Treblinka with his child students. Next, head for the Umschlagplatz, where Warsaw Jews were selected and loaded on the trains to the camp.
Afterwards, head for Treblinka commemoration place. There, in the middle of the forest, visit a museum with a miniature model of the camp and watch moving testimonies of some of the camp survivors. Next, following the symbolic train tracks, you walk towards the impressive Treblinka memorial. Made of over 17,000 stones, the monument commemorates over 700,000 victims of the extermination camp. Learn dire stories of transportation of the European Jews to this camp and find out more about the revolt that took place in Treblinka in the summer of 1943. After the time of contemplation at the Treblinka memorial, you return to Warsaw, to the original starting point.
The Auschwitz Birkenau complex has left its inglorious mark on human history. A symbol of the Holocaust, during its five years of operation over a million Jews, along with Poles, Romani and other groups, were systematically killed by German Occupiers in WWII. Confronting and emotionally charged, a visit to the complex is an essential part of the human experience.
Both sections of the camp, Auschwitz I and the much larger outlying Birkenau (Auschwitz II) have been preserved and are open to visitors. Everyone should visit Auschwitz at least once in their lives, it is a stern reminder of the horrors that human beings can inflict on each other and the only way to understand the extent and horror of the place and the atrocities that took place there.
The Auschwitz extermination camp was established in Polish army barracks on the outskirts of Oświęcim by the Germans in April 1940 and was originally intended for Polish political prisoners. It was then adapted for the wholesale extermination of the Jews of Europe in fulfilment of German Nazi ideology and pursuit of the ‘final solution of the Jewish question in Europe.’
For this purpose, the much larger camp at Birkenau was built 2km west of the original site in 1941/1942, followed by another one in Monowitz, several kilometres to the west.
Most of the killing took place in Birkenau and not Auschwitz. The 175 hectares camp was purpose-built for efficiency with 300 prison barracks housing 300 people each and four huge gas chambers, complete with crematoria. Each gas chamber could asphyxiate 2,000 people at one time and were fitted with electric lifts to raise the bodies to the ovens more quickly and conveniently.
From spring 1942 until the fall of 1944, transport trains delivered Jews to the camp’s gas chambers from all over Nazi-occupied Europe. The camp’s first commandant, Rudolf Höss, testified after the war at the Nuremberg Trials that up to three million people had died there (2.5 million exterminated, and 500,000 from disease and starvation), a figure since revised to 1.1 million. Of the 1.1 million people who were murdered in Birkenau, 90 percent of them were Jews.
Others deported to Auschwitz Birkenau included 150,000 Poles, 23,000 Roma and Sinti, 15,000 Soviet prisoners of war, and tens of thousands of people of diverse nationalities. Those not killed in the gas chambers died of starvation, forced labour, lack of disease control, individual executions, and medical experiments.
By July 1942, the SS were conducting the infamous “selections,” in which incoming Jews were divided into those deemed able to work, who were sent to the right and admitted into the camp, and those who were sent to the left and immediately gassed.
Prisoners were transported from all over German-occupied Europe by rail, arriving in daily convoys. The group selected to die, about three-quarters of the total, included almost all children, women with children, all the elderly, and all those who appeared on brief and superficial inspection by an SS doctor not to be completely fit. Auschwitz II-Birkenau claimed more victims than any other German extermination camp, despite coming into use after all the others.
SS officers told the victims they were to take a shower and undergo delousing. The victims would undress in an outer chamber and walk into the gas chamber, which was disguised as a shower facility, complete with dummy shower heads. After the doors were shut, SS men would dump in the cyanide pellets via holes in the roof or windows on the side. In Auschwitz II-Birkenau, more than 20,000 people could be gassed and cremated each day.
Sonderkommandos removed gold teeth from the corpses of gas chamber victims; the gold was melted down and collected by the SS. The belongings of the arrivals were seized by the SS and sorted in an area of the camp called “Canada,” so-called because Canada was seen as a land of plenty. Many of the SS at the camp enriched themselves by pilfering the confiscated property.
The last selection took place on October 30, 1944. The next month, Heinrich Himmler ordered the crematoria destroyed before the Red Army reached the camp. The gas chambers of Birkenau were blown up by the SS in January 1945 in an attempt to hide the German crimes from the advancing Soviet troops. The SS command sent orders on January 17, 1945, calling for the execution of all prisoners remaining in the camp, but in the chaos of the Nazi retreat the order was never carried out. On January 17, 1945, Nazi personnel started to evacuate the facility.
Nearly 60,000 prisoners were forced on a death march toward a camp in Wodzisław Śląski (German: Loslau). Those too weak or sick to walk were left behind. These remaining 7,500 prisoners were liberated by the 322nd Rifle Division of the Red Army on January 27, 1945.
Approximately 20,000 Auschwitz Birkenau prisoners made it to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany, where they were liberated by the British in April 1945. Among the artefacts of automated murder found by the Russians were 348,820 men’s suits and 836,255 women’s garments.
On January 27, 1945, Auschwitz Birkenau was liberated by Soviet troops, a day commemorated around the world as International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Today, at Birkenau the entrance building and some of the southern brick-built barracks survive; but of the almost 300 wooden barracks, only 19 remain: 18 near the entrance building and one, on its own, farther away. All that survives of the others are chimneys, remnants of a largely ineffective means of heating. Many of these wooden buildings were constructed from prefabricated sections made by a company that intended them to be used as stables; inside, numerous metal rings for the tethering of horses can still be seen.
The Polish government decided to restore Auschwitz I and turn it into a museum honouring the victims of Nazism; Auschwitz II, where buildings (many of which were prefabricated wood structures) were prone to decay, was preserved but not restored. Today, the Auschwitz I museum site combines elements from several periods into a single complex: for example, the gas chamber at Auschwitz I (which had been converted into an air-raid shelter for the SS) was restored and the fence was moved (because of building work being done after the war but before the museum was established). However, in most cases the departure from the historical truth is minor and is clearly labelled.
The museum contains many men’s, women’s and children’s shoes taken from their victims; also, suitcases, which the deportees were encouraged to bring with them, and many household utensils. One display case, some 30 metres (98 ft) long, is wholly filled with human hair which the Nazis gathered from people before they were sent to labour or before and after they were killed.
Auschwitz II and the remains of the gas chambers there are open to the public. The camp is on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The ashes of the victims were scattered between the huts, and the entire area is regarded as a grave site. Most of the buildings of Auschwitz I are still standing. The public entrance area is outside the perimeter fence in what was the camp admission building, where new prisoners were registered and given their uniforms. At the far end of Birkenau are memorial plaques in many languages, including Romani.