Before departing, the survivors held a modest ceremony at the Tarnow station platform, honoring the 728 victims who were part of the June 14, 1940 shipment.
Auschwitz, the location of the network of concentration and extermination camps established by Nazi Germany near a provincial town in Polish Galicia, was site of the largest mass murder in recorded history. Between 1942 and 1945, well over a million Jews, Gypsies, and Soviet POWs were murdered in the hell founded on the orders of SS Reichsfhurer Heinrich Himmler in 1940. Those who weren't annihilated with Zyklon-B in the Nazi's gas chambers died of starvation and disease.
Initially a small concentration camp where prisoners were subjected to inhumane conditions, Auschwitz gradually grew into a trinity of three central camps – Auschwitz I (the Stammlager or main camp); Auschwitz II-Birkenau (the Vernichtungslager or extermination camp); and Auschwitz III-Monowitz, also known as Buna-Monowitz (a labor camp) - and 45 satellite camps.
Upon arrival at Auschwitz, the prisoners were subjected to a cruel selection process at the hands of the camp doctors. The people – mostly babies, children, and the elderly – who did not pass were murdered because of their inability to work; those who made the cut were continued to a short and horrific life of slavery that almost always ended in grim death.
Auschwitz is also notoriously known for the medical experiments carried out on inmates, particularly twins, by Dr. Joseph Mengel, AKA 'the Angel of Death.' Few survived the operations and dissections, which were carried out without anesthesia.
Auschwitz II-Birkenau, the largest and most complex of the central camps, was designated for the systematic annihilation of Jews. Ninety percent of the prisoners at Auschwitz were killed in the gas chambers of Birkenau; 90% of those killed were Jews.
By mid-summer 1944, as the Red Army closed in, the Nazi leadership began to evacuate and liquidate the Auschwitz camps. The mass extermination of Jews ended in November 1944, most of the few who survived were led on death marches to other camps or industrial centers for work.
During the following months the Nazi authorities began covering up evidence of their crimes against humanity by closing off pits used in the extermination process and blowing up the crematoriums. In January 1945, Auschwitz was liberated by the Red Army, and the remaining 7,000 prisoners were released from the camp.
Today Auschwitz is synonymous with the Holocaust of Europe’s Jews and is a reminder of humanity’s most vile act. Despite the Nazis efforts, there is abundance of testimonies and evidence pointing to the atrocities that the Germans perpetrated, and the former death camp complex serves as a museum where younger generations learn about the atrocities that human beings are capable of.
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