Why has KL Auschwitz-Birkenau become a symbol of extermination?

When we talk about World War II, one of the first associations we have with this topic are concentration camps and the mass extermination of civilians, especially in the KL Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. But what made it this one and not just any other?

Although the history of the Auschwitz concentration camp dates back to 1940, there was a Prussian camp for seasonal workers in Oświęcim since 1917. After World War I, when Poland returned on the map of Europe, it ceased to maintain it and began to perform various functions. However, it paused until the outbreak of World War II and in 1940 was noticed by one of the officials of the Third Reich. It was then that the decision was made to transform this area into a camp, initially for prisoners of war, and then into the largest extermination camp.

The common features of all concentration camps were the way they functioned and the treatment of the prisoners locked in them. Practically only officials of the Third Reich, including the most brutal ones, ruled the camp, while external organizations practically did not have access to these places. The prisoners were used as free labor for both the Reich’s military industry and civilian needs. The situation of the Jews in each of the camps was tragic: an order to eliminate this nation ruthlessly. In each of the camps, there was also extreme corruption of life and human dignity. The prisoners were treated just like subhumans. They were humiliated at every turn, deprived of basic living conditions, including access to food and health care. The SS-men could do with the prisoners exactly what and how they wanted.

In Auschwitz-Birkenau, all this was compounded even more. The camp became almost a „factory of death”, in which work was constantly being done to increase the efficiency of killing prisoners. Initially, prisoners were killed by gassing or using phenol. Over time, this process was refined and Zyklon B began to be used. In the following years of the camp’s existence, the plan to kill prisoners became even more intense and the „killing factory” consisted of several gas chambers and crematoria, allowing cremation of up to 10,000 corpses each day. Jews were sent to work in them, who had to kill their fellow brothers, and at the same time knew that they would die in any moment.

Another feature that distinguishes KL Auschwitz is the particularly severe pseudo-medical experiments that German doctors also carried out on children. Auschwitz also performed more functions. It was not like other German camps intended only for prisoners of war or for work. The camp in Oświęcim was at the same time an extermination camp, a labor camp, a prisoner-of-war camp, and a transit camp. Auschwitz was the only one among all the camps where dehumanization was so advanced that instead of people there were numbers that were tattooed on prisoners. Oftentimes, there was not even a tattoo, only transports were sent to their deaths straight away.

The last, overwhelming question of why Auschwitz has become a symbol of these tragic events is the number of victims the camp claimed. According to initial data, it was supposed to be up to four and a half million people. These figures have been corrected and are now said to be about one and a half million people, mostly Jews. Although this number is much lower than the estimate that was made shortly after the end of the war, it is nevertheless the highest among all camps. All these elements create a tragic picture of the fate of many people during World War II. The museum, although it evokes excitement and extreme emotions, is an excellent history lesson that everyone should do to find out the consequences of the war.

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