- January 27, 2020 marks the 75th anniversary of the Soviet Army’s liberation of Auschwitz, the largest and deadliest Nazi concentration complex.
- First established in 1940 in German-occupied Poland, Auschwitz had a concentration camp, a labour camp, large gas chambers, and crematoria.
- More than 1.1 million people were murdered at Auschwitz, including nearly one million Jews. On the day of liberation, only 7,000 were saved.
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It was the greatest tragedy of the Holocaust. In just five years, over one million people were murdered at Auschwitz, the largest and deadliest Nazi concentration camp.
Auschwitz was established in 1940 and located in the suburbs of Oswiecim, a Polish city the Germans annexed. Between 1940 and 1945, it grew to include three main camp centres and a slew of subcamps – each of which were used for forced labour, torture, and mass killing.
An estimated 1.3 million people were deported to Auschwitz during its five-year operation, and approximately 1.1 million were killed.
The terror of Auschwitz finally subsided on January 27, 1945, when the Soviet Army liberated the remaining 7,000 prisoners from the camps.
On the 75th anniversary of this liberation, these photos exhibit the horror and history of Auschwitz.
Auschwitz was established in 1940 in the suburbs of Oswiecim, Poland. During its first year, authorities cleared 15 square miles for the camp.
Auschwitz I, the first camp to undergo construction, was initially created for three reasons: to imprison enemies, to use forced labour, and to kill certain groups of people.
Construction of the largest camp, Auschwitz II, also called Auschwitz-Birkenau, began in October 1941. Electrified barbed wire divided it into 10 different sections.
Auschwitz-Birkenau’s different sections were for “women; men; a family camp for Roma (Gypsies) deported from Germany, Austria, and the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia; and a family camp for Jewish families deported from the Theresienstadt ghetto,” according to the Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Inmates were put into poorly structured wooden barracks with 36 bunks each. Five to six prisoners were packed in so over 500 prisoners were in each unit.
Incoming prisoners who were selected for forced labour received tattoos and had a serial number sewn into their uniforms. Auschwitz was the only concentration camp to do this.
Shortly after construction, Auschwitz-Birkenau became the largest killing centre and central location for the extermination of Jews in Europe.
Source: Museum of Jewish Heritage
In 1942, two farmhouses just outside the camp were turned into gas chambers.
But as Auschwitz-Birkenau became a central location for mass killing, these gas chambers were too small. Four new chambers were built between March and June 1943, each containing a disrobing area, gas chamber, and crematory ovens.
As millions of people were murdered, mounds of eye glasses, razors, shoes, and other belongings were left behind.
In 1942, Auschwitz III, also known as Buna or Monowitz, opened near the town of Monowice to house more forced laborers.
Forty-four subcamps with different specialisations were established at Auschwitz between 1942 and 1944. The Nazis made prisoners work on large farms, in coal mines, in weapons production — basically anything the German military needed for war.
Between 1940 and 1945, an estimated 1.3 million people were sent to Auschwitz. Approximately 1.1 million were killed.
Source: Museum of Jewish Heritage
In January 1945, before Soviet forces could reach the camps for liberation, nearly 60,000 people were forced to march west, and thousands more were killed.
The terror finally subsided on January 27, 1945, when the Soviet Army reached the gates of Auschwitz.
When Soviet soldiers arrived, only between 6,000 and 7,000 prisoners remained. The majority of them faced starvation, death, and illness.
Available records indicate that when the soldiers arrived, at least 700 youth prisoners were still at the camp, half of whom were Jewish.
In many cases, the liberated children were malnourished, severely weak, vitamin deficient, and diseased. Of 180 children examined after liberation, 40% had tuberculosis.
Source: Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum