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Auschwitz Liberation Anniversary on January 27

Auschwitz Liberation Anniversary

On January 27 the civilized world will be remembering the liberation of the notorious German – Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz – Birkenau, in 1945 - sixty years ago.

Auschwitz was not the first but one of many concentration camps established by the Germans under Hitler’s regime. Why then did it become synonymous with genocide and especially with the Jewish Holocaust?

The reason is that Auschwitz was the biggest of all the concentration camps and responsible for the largest number of deaths.

Auschwitz is the Germanized name of the Polish township of Oœwiêcim, some 60 km south west of the city of Kraków.

Auschwitz Concentration Camp was established by the Nazi Germans on 14 June in 1940, for Polish political prisoners. Its commandant was Rudolph Hoess.

By 1942 Heinrich Himmler realized that Auschwitz would be a very good place for the Nazis to carry out their hideous policy of the “final solution” of European Jewry.

It is located on Polish territory where most European Jews lived: 10% (3.5 millions) of Poland’s population was Jewish. That is more than half of those who perished in the Holocaust. In addition Auschwitz is the most central (equidistant) place from all European countries. It was easily accessible by rail.

Auschwitz was not just a camp where people were simply put to death. They were subjected to most inhumane tortures and degradation. SS doctors performed the most hideous experiments on the prisoners, without the use of anesthetics. Under the supervision of the infamous Dr. Josef Mengele they carried out genetic experiments on twins, and gynecologist Prof. Dr. Carl Clauberg experimented on sterilization of Jewish women by injection. This was to be used, after the extermination of the Jews, to control the births of the Slavic population. Prisoners who were slow to recover from such experiments were put to death by the injection of phenol.

Another form of torture was the so-called “roll calls”. Prisoners could be herded at any time of day or night, regardless of weather, where they were kept standing for hours – often in freezing cold. Those who could not stand were shot by SS guards. Starvation to death was also a form of punishment.

Initially the prisoners were executed by being shot. The so-called “wall of death” where this was carried out has been preserved to this day. Later with the increasing influx of the Jews, a more “efficient” form of execution had to be invented. In September of 1941 a first experiment was conducted with a hydrogen cyanide gas called “Zyclon B” (Cyclone B) manufactured by the well known German chemical firm IG Farben. The first experiment was carried out on 250 Polish and 600 Russian Prisoners of War. It was such a success, that Himmler decided to use it on a large scale to exterminate the Jews.

The original Auschwitz camp was set up, by the Nazi Germans, in prewar Polish Army Barracks. It soon became too small for the plans of the Nazis. A much larger facility was constructed about 3 kilometers from Auschwitz called Brzezinka, Germanized to Birkenau. It is also known as Auschwitz II, while the original camp is known as Auschwitz I.

Auschwitz II, could hold 100,000 prisoners at a time and became, almost solely, a camp where the Jews were exterminated. Under the pretext of showering, the victims were stripped naked and herded up to 2500 at a time into the “shower rooms”, which were in fact gas chambers, where the Zyclon B was released through the shower heads. Those standing directly under them died instantly, those farther away died a slow death.

Before the victims were cremated their hair was shaved off for the manufacture of cloth and gold tooth fillings, crowns and bridge work were knocked out and melted into bars to help the German “War Effort”.

Auschwitz was not without its heroes. One worth mentioning was called Witold Pilecki. He was a member of Armia Krajowa (Polish Home Army), who voluntarily joined the transport of prisoners heading for Auschwitz. There he organized a resistance movement and managed to transmit information to the Allies.

Another was a Catholic Franciscan Monk (since canonized) Maksymilian Kolbe, who offered to go to death for another prisoner selected for execution.

In November 1944 it became clear to the Germans that they were losing the war. The Soviet Red Army was rapidly advancing towards the west. The Germans attempted to evacuate Auschwitz. In what became known as the “march of death” thousands of prisoners perished. On 27 January 1945 Auschwitz was liberated. There were 7,500 prisoners, barely alive, left in the camp. Its commandant, Rudolph Hoess was caught and tried for his crimes. In 1947 he was hanged in front of the crematorium in Auschwitz I.

Teresa Œwiebocka, historian and senior curator of the Auschwitz – Birkenau Museum writes: “The Nazis sent at least 1,100,000 Jews, almost 150,000 Poles, 23,000 Roma and Sinti (Gypsies), 15,000 Soviet prisoners of war, and tens of thousands of prisoners of other nationalities to Auschwitz.” It is reasonable to assume that all have perished.

Various authorities and historians vary in estimating numbers of prisoners who died in Auschwitz, but the exact number will never be known. We can take however that the numbers given by Œwiebocka who is an authority of world renown on the subject, and has spent years researching it, are accurate enough.

In 1947 the Polish Government established Auschwitz as a Museum financed by the Ministry of Culture and Arts. Now it is also on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites.

Until the year 2000 25 million people visited Auschwitz. Initially they were from all over Poland, but the numbers of visitors from all parts of the world increase from year to year.

Auschwitz is now, without a doubt, the world’s largest cemetery. There are no marked graves – in fact there are no graves at all. Bones and ashes of hundreds of thousands of victims are scattered over hundreds of hectares. They belong to people of all races and all creeds. They rest there together in perfect harmony: a silent, yet powerful witness to the evil futility of persecution, racism and discrimination of any kind.

Zbigniew (George) Sudull Spokesman, Polish Community Council Of Australia and New Zealand

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