AUSCHWITZ, the largest of the Nazi death camps, was the scene of the most appalling mass murder in human history.
During the Holocaust over six million Jews were executed, many of them at the Poland facility.
When was Auschwitz established?
The Auschwitz death camp was established by the Nazis in May of 1940.
The site was already the location of 16 dilapidated buildings, which had previously housed soldiers and workers.
The majority of local residents were evicted to make way for German citizens, and Jewish workers from Oświęcim were forced to lay the foundations of the camp.
When it was complete, it held around 15,000 inmates in appallingly cramped conditions, with numbers sometimes rising above 20,000.
Where is Auschwitz?
Auschwitz concentration camp was constructed in the suburbs of the Polish city Oświęcim, near the modern nation's southern border, in 1940.
A month after plans were approved, the first prisoners arrived at the initial camp, Auschwitz I, and within a year over 10,000 people were imprisoned there.
Above the gates, like other Nazi death camps, was the famous motto "Arbeit macht frei" – "Work brings freedom."
In October 1941, with the German war in the east wreaking terrible loss of life, construction began for a second larger camp, Auschwitz II-Birkenau, in the village of Brzezinka three kilometres way.
On the original plans for the huge facility, SS architect Karl Bischoff set the capacity for each cramped barracks at 550 – this figure was crossed out by hand, and replaced with 744.
It was in Birkenau, which held 90,000 prisoners by 1944, that the first gas chamber was made operational in March 1942.
This was later followed by several others, where the majority of Auschwitz prisoners were murdered on an industrial scale as the Holocaust plunged horrifying depths.
In October 1942 a third camp, Auschwitz III, began housing prisoners at Monowitz around seven kilometres from the original site.
There were also over 40 sub-camps in the surrounding areas, creating a vast, heavily-guarded complex enclosed by barbed wire fences and patrolled by thousands of SS troops.
When was the liberation of Auschwitz?
The camp was liberated on January 27, 1945, by the rapidly advancing Soviet troops – the date is now commemorated each year as Holocaust Memorial Day.
In 2020, the 75th anniversary of the liberation is being remembered in the UK and around the world.
The Soviet Army liberated the remaining 7,000 prisoners from the camps.
How many people died in the concentration camp?
The sheer scale of mass murder involved in the Holocaust means it's impossible to calculate a precise figure.
In total, an estimated 1.3 million people were sent to Auschwitz – and at least 1.1 million of these died.
Around 90 percent of the dead were Jewish, representing approximately a sixth of all Jews killed in the Holocaust.
The rest of the inmates were comprised of Polish and Soviet prisoners, thousands of Romany people and an unknown number imprisoned for being homosexual.
When the mass killings were at their peak, up to 6,000 Jews were being gassed per day, with the cyanide-based pesticide Zyklon B the weapon of choice.
Those not killed in the gas chambers perished from starvation, forced labour and the infectious diseases that spread unchecked through the camps.
The quality of life at Auschwitz was appalling – a true hell on earth.
When they weren't being worked to death, inmates were crammed together in unhygienic, inhumane conditions, and lived with the constant threat of punishment or torture at the hands of the SS guards.
Furthermore, prisoners were subjected to degrading, often fatal medical experiments at the hands of twisted doctors such as the notorious Josef Mengele.
With the Nazis rapidly losing ground against the Soviet Red Army in the latter stages of the war, Auschwitz was evacuated and much of it demolished.
At the start of 1945 the remaining prisoners were forced westwards into a "death march", with many thousands perishing in the harsh winter conditions.
Can you visit and tour Auschwitz today?
Since June 1947, Auschwitz I and II have been open as poignant museums devoted to the memories of those who lost their lives in the camps.
Over a million people visit every year, with the exhibitions housed in many of the camp's original buildings.
Auschwitz has been a protected Unesco World Cultural Heritage site since 1979, and admission to the grounds of the memorial is free of charge.
However, there are fees in place for guided tours and for renting headphone audio guides.
Visitors are asked to observe appropriate solemnity and respect.
In the past, British tourists sparked outrage by posing for inappropriate selfies in the museum.
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