If you are planning to take Auschwitz Birkenau tour and want to be prepare for the experience properly, you should start by getting to know the historical context of this terrible death factory. We also encourage you to read our another text dedicated to the exhibition of the Auschwitz Museum and Memorial.
After the Nazi Germany invasion of Poland, the city of Oswiecim (germ. Auschwitz) was incorporated into the Third Reich. The camp itself was set up relatively quickly. It was already finished in the mid-1940s. It is worth noting that the concentration camps network was created in Germany literally from the moment of the seizure of power by the Nazis in the 30s. After the incorporations of other European countries new complexes were created and designed especially for arrested people from conquered territories (the number of prisoners was so huge that jails and prisons could not hold them any longer). At the very beginning of Auschwitz existence, much before it became the main center of the ‘Final Solution to the Jewish Question’ it was just such a camp for political prisoners. Among them there were mainly Poles (the vast majority), Jews, Germans, some few representatives of other nationalities and since 1941 prisoners from the Red Army.
In 1941 the camp expanded into a complex with its largest part – Auschwitz II-Birkenau located few kilometers away next to the village of Brzezinka. In 1942 Birkenau has become a place of mass extermination of Jews deported to the camp (in total more than a million were sent to Auschwitz, a small portion of approx. 200 thousand was considered as able for work). Rest, hundreds of thousands have suffered death in the gas chambers. It is difficult to estimate all Auschwitz Birkenau victims. Let us remember that during the peak period of operation of the death machinery many people sent to the gas chambers were not even recorded. The mortality rate among inmates set in both camps was also extremely high.
The difference between a concentration and extermination camp should be noticed once again. By the 1942 Auschwitz Birkenau served these functions in parallel. Embedding in a concentration camp meant a slow agony as a result of overwork, starvation, inhuman treatment and, generally speaking, extremely difficult living conditions. Extermination camp, however, was a place of immediate extermination of Jews and Roma people.
We must add that there was also the Auschwitz III. It is the collective name for dozens of sub-camps created in deployed in the area of German manufacturing plants eg. ‘Buna-Werke’ plant producing gasoline and synthetic rubber. As we know, the German industry in the Reich and the occupied territories used prisoners as forced workers on a massive scale. The area around the complex frightens by its scale (40 km2). Local residents were displaced, and their homes were either razed or served for camp crew as factory houses. Camp buildings was surrounded by barbed wire which isolated this ‘hell on earth’ for the rest of the world. During our Auschwitz Birkenau tour we stay on the area of Auschwitz I and II (Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum and Memorial created right after the war).
Auschwitz Birkenau tour with a guide
You will definitely begin your visit in the Auschwitz Birkenau concentration and etermination camp by going through the gate with the inscription Arbeit macht frei. The excess is the beginning of a journey – full of unimaginably cruel images, but extremely important. What exactly can you expect at the museum exhibition? We will write it in a separate article. We also encourage you to read the offer and the itinerary of Auschwitz tour.