Oswiecim, Poland is home to one of the most infamous locations in World War II history: Auschwitz. Once the site of mass death and torture, the facilities are now used as a museum and memorial accessible through guided tours. While the atmosphere is somber, it is an educational experience that sheds light onto the inner workings of the camp, sticking with you long after you leave, and helping to ensure that similar atrocities are not allowed to happen again.
The concentration camp, split into three sections throughout the town, was in use from 1940 through 1945. Originally, Auschwitz held Polish political prisoners until their release, but as the Third Reich gained power and the Final Solution was created, its use morphed into that of a death center for Jews, Polls, Romani, Soviets, and other undesired people.
Auschwitz I was the main concentration camp, housing prisoners in old brick Polish army barracks. The main gate displays the words “Arbeit Macht Frei,” or “Work Brings Freedom.” While some were released before the Holocaust began, the majority of prisoners lasted less than four months before they were killed. The harsh conditions and long hours that they were forced to work in contributed to their suffering.
Auschwitz-Birkenau II was the main death center and concentration camp of Auschwitz. Located a short way from the first camp, it was built to ease congestion at the main camp. It could house 50,000 prisoners with plans to expand to room for 200,000. The Birkenau camp held five crematoria’s, responsible for the death of up to 1.5 million prisoners.
The third camp, Auschwitz III or Monowitz, was located just outside the town of Oswiecim. It was a labor camp, producing synthetic rubber for the war effort. Nothing remains of Monowitz today, but its reputation is not less than that of the other camps, with the average life expectancy of workers being only three months.
Although the Holocaust is one of the darkest parts of world history, it is important to preserve the history to ensure that it is not forgotten. With the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum open to the public, people from all over the world are able to travel to Poland to learn about, visualize, and memorialize those lost during the Holocaust.